Acting on President Clinton's commitment to help U.S. lamb and sheep farmers, Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman has announced details of a three-year, $100 million assistance plan.

"This Administration is committed to helping American sheep and lamb farmers who are threatened by a surge of low-priced, imported lamb meat," said Glickman. "By funding production improvements, increasing promotion efforts and helping to improve animal health, our assistance plan boosts the long-term development and growth of lamb and sheep farming in the U.S."

Last February, the U.S. International Trade Commission ruled that the recent surge of low-priced imported lamb meat causes the threat of injury to U.S. producers. The assistance package will help the U.S. lamb industry achieve sustained competitiveness, while respecting international trade obligations.

The plan makes $50 million available during the first year and an additional $50 million during the second and third year for production improvements, market promotion, animal health and domestic purchases. Here is how the funds will be spent.

Production improvements

--The plan will provide $30 million total, or $10 million per year, to small- and medium-sized producers in direct cash payments tied to production practices and quality incentives that improve competitiveness. In year one, funding would be directed to such activities as genetic selection, lambing facilities and feedlot development or improvement. In years two and three, there will be quality incentives for production of highly desirable products.

--In the first year, $15 million is provided for guaranteed loans to help fund new and improved building facilities, as well as processing and packaging system upgrades. An additional $5 million is available in year two and again in year three for these loans.

--The plan includes $5 million in year one and $5 million in year two for guaranteed loans to help farmers cover flock and farm improvements and operating expenses.

Animal health

--USDA will spend up to $10 million in the first year helping producers to eradicate scrapie from the domestic sheep population. An additional $5 million will be requested in the second year. Additional funds may be requested in the third year, if needed.

Domestic purchases

--USDA will purchase up to $5 million of lamb each year during the three-year program.

Market promotion

--In the first year, USDA will invest $4 million in efforts to increase demand and improve the competitive position of domestic lamb.

--An additional $1 million in the first year will fund marketing programs, including cooperative marketing, lamb yield data, wool certification and price reporting.

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