The U.S. sheep and lamb industry has been shrinking for decades as the numbers of sheep and producers have declined since World War II. Consolidation of the sheep packing industry, higher feed and energy costs, continuous loses to predation, and lower consumption, coupled with competition from imports of lamb cuts, have taken their toll on U.S. producers. In response to industry needs, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) has been working with the American Lamb Board (ALB) and the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) on initiatives aimed at ensuring the long-term viability of the industry.
The ALB recently initiated a study to identify the challenges, propose solutions, and develop strategies to strengthen the industry’s competitive advantage. By working with a marketing firm and using data and services offered by USDA, ALB hopes this study’s findings will help return the industry to profitability. AMS is ready to assist ALB as they lay the groundwork and identify goals and benchmarks.
Another way AMS is assisting the industry is in identifying opportunities to improve Livestock Mandatory Reporting (LMR) for lamb. LMR was established to collect and publish price and volume information to encourage competition in the marketplace. However, given the consolidation of the industry, it has become difficult to publish lamb market information on a consistent basis due to the LMR confidentiality requirements. Last fall, ASI commissioned the Livestock Marketing Information Center (LMIC) to conduct a study of the LMR program, and over the course of 5 months, met with AMS to learn more about how USDA administers the lamb reporting program.
The final report proposed improvement recommendations to lamb reporting. Some of the recommendations included lowering the reporting thresholds for packers and importers, evaluating the confidentiality policy for LMR, and eliminating categories and reports that do not have utility. AMS has reviewed the report and is engaged with ASI to determine the best solutions for the recommendations. While some of the recommendations will require regulatory changes, many of the proposals can be addressed easily. In fact, AMS has already eliminated the western regional lamb reports, changed the National daily lamb report to a weekly report, modified the reported weight categories, and removed unused purchase type categories.
AMS is working with ASI on other projects, such as determining ways in which slaughter lambs are bought to ensure that the LMR purchase types are still relevant. AMS is also working to develop strategies to more accurately define the lamb maturity window for the grade standards and will work with FSIS on a more agreeable term for “yearling mutton” such as “yearling lamb.” AMS and ASI are cooperating on the potential development of a lamb tenderness standard, and the potential development of a non-hormone treated lamb export certification protocol with the European Union.
The ALB and ASI recently received USDA approval to explore lamb instrument grading, through funding received from the National Sheep Industry Improvement Center. The project will be a two phased approach to finalizing USDA’s standardization of the concept and evaluating the benefits and return on the investment to garner industry acceptance.
The USDA is committed to working with our partners in the industry to not only meet these challenges but to succeed in creating an industry that provides quality products to consumers and increased producer returns here at home.