U.S., Australia, New Zealand eye lamb market

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TAMWORTH, Australia – Representatives of sheep industry groups from the United States, Australia and New Zealand have agreed to collaborate on various sheep industry issues including trade, consumer information, livestock identification and animal health.
Building U.S. market. More than a year ago, the Tri-Lamb Nations Group met officially for the first time in Washington, D.C., to craft a memorandum of understanding regarding the group’s purpose.
According to the agreement, they will work together to “enhance the profitability and sustainability of the lamb market in the United States for the three supplying countries.”
Getting down to business. In the group’s second official meeting, hosted by Australia Nov. 16, delegates from the three nations’ sheep industry groups focused on specific ways to broaden the U.S. lamb market, including ways to coordinate improvements within the three sheep industries themselves.
According to the draft resolutions, which were released after a full day of deliberations, the group “supports the need for substantial progress in the [World Trade Organization] Doha Round on liberalizing sheep meat markets currently restricted by barriers to trade.”
Although the U.S. lamb industry does not rely on exports, both Australia and New Zealand depend on a healthy export market and are currently facing difficulties with import restrictions in areas such as the European Union.
Good move. John Salmon, who lives in New South Wales several hours north of Sydney, retired from full-time sheep farming three years ago due to health problems. But after several decades in sheep farming, which included work with Suffolks and drought-resistant Poll Dorsets, Salmon sees most of the tri-nation group’s resolutions as positive from the Australian perspective.
Seated at his kitchen table, looking out on the brush-covered hills surrounding his house, Salmon said Australians, for the most part, have no problem with liberalizing sheep markets.
“The worry that we have in that liberalization is the quarantine,” he added.
“If the quarantine’s opened up compared to other countries, then most of the sheep farmers here would be up in arms,” Salmon said.
That country’s quarantine is a serious part of Australia’s attempts to keep its market clean. However, if the Australian quarantine remained strict regarding diseases such as scrapie, Salmon felt other areas of the quarantine could possibly be loosened.
Promotional efforts. The delegates also agreed to share information “on the timing and location of promotional campaigns in the U.S. market.”
This would prevent overlap of the three countries’ individual promotions while broadening the scope of lamb promotion in the United States.
The group also agreed to support the development of a “pilot consumer education program in the United States market,” which would target increased consumer awareness of the nutritional and health benefits of lamb.
Helps U.S. producers. Retired Australian producer Salmon sees nothing but good coming of such efforts.
“I keep saying that if America wants a good sheep industry, domestic consumption needs to go up,” he said. “The domestic industry in America would ride on the back of the Australian [export] market.”
“If Australia or New Zealand does marketing, the American sheep farmers are going to grab that and run with it,” Salmon added.
“They might lose some market, but their domestic market’s going to increase.”
Popular meal. It’s different in both Australia and New Zealand, Salmon said.
“We’ve been eating lamb minced as a baby.” He added that in his house, lamb is served four to five times a week.
Pay attention. Education isn’t just for the consumers, Salmon noted.
“You’ve got to be careful. Consumer education doesn’t mean that the sheep industry says, ‘This is what we’re developing and this is what you’re going to get.’ It goes the other way too.”
“You’ve got to deliver what the consumer wants, within reason,” he added.
Salmon said in Australia the meat departments of supermarkets, as well as butchers, have lamb recipe cards on display. In addition, supermarkets host cooking demonstrations using lamb.
Animal ID. On the production end of deliberations, the delegates recognized the “necessity” of effective livestock identification programs, as well as programs to improve traceability.
The group agreed to share information on “previous and future animal health campaigns and emergency responses,” as well as priorities for research and development.
Timing is right. For Salmon, the tri-nations group is a no-brainer. “You need the interaction between the three groups because [the American] market is different to ours, and our market’s different than New Zealand’s.”
And even looking at the situation from the U.S. perspective, which has to consider the steady decline in sheep numbers and competition from outside imports, Salmon remains firm.
“If the situation was completely changed, and our sheep industry was like the American one, I would get on the back of it,” he said. “We’re not going to have an export industry, we’re going to have a domestic industry.”
“You’ve got to get your own domestic market, because that’s the bread and butter that keeps you going,” Salmon added.
“If your domestic market is not working, then your industry’s going to die.”
(Rebecca Miller is the county education and nonprofit reporter at The Sheridan Press in Sheridan, Wyo. Miller, who grew up on a commercial sheep farm in Lisbon, Ohio, recently spent time in Australia with the U.S. delegation of the Tri-Nations Lamb Group.)

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