DENVER--Approximately 300 sheep producers and lamb feeders from across the country attended the first joint convention of the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) and the National Lamb Feeders Association (NLFA) held in San Antonio, TX, Jan. 24-26.

"Optimizing Opportunities" was the theme of the convention, and convention attendees heard the variety of ways producers are doing just that, including a panel discussion featuring representatives from Rancher's Lamb and Mountain States Lamb Cooperative, both of which are taking unique approaches to marketing lamb and wool.

Attendees also heard from a variety of government officials on issues of interest to the sheep industry, including the lamb checkoff and retained ewe programs.

Marty O'Connor from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service said he expected a national lamb checkoff order to be published in the Federal Register April 1, 2002, at which time collection would begin. Although the comment period ended Nov. 20, he said USDA is still receiving mail dated earlier this fall, due to the anthrax outbreak and the resulting delay in mail service in Washington, D.C.

"The industry needs to implement the checkoff program with all its vigor and energy," ASI President and Wyoming sheep producer Frank Moore said.

"It is so important to our future. We can all attest to what happens to an industry when it loses its checkoff program."

O'Connor also talked about the much anticipated retained ewe program.

"The program has yet to go through the Office of Management and Budget before it is published in the Federal Register," O'Connor said.

"Software also needs to be tested at Farm Service Agency offices. The program will, however, be retroactive to Aug. 1, 2000."

O'Connor also discussed year four of the industry assistance package, granted as a result of the Section 201 trade case filed by the industry.

He said the fourth year of assistance will include $5 million for government purchases of lamb, which is donated to charitable organizations. The fourth year of assistance of approximately $37 million also includes funding for the retained ewe program and for a continuation of the feeder and slaughter lamb payment programs.

As Jim Richards, legislative aide for Sen. Henry Bonilla (R-TX) said "pound for pound, no agricultural organization has done better (in securing payment programs) than ASI."

The first annual report for the American Wool Trust Fund was presented by ASI's Wool Council to the ASI's board of directors and to USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Services Dr. Jim Butler, who addressed the board at a Jan. 26th luncheon.

Texas Agricultural Commissioner Susan Combs welcomed convention attendees to Texas, expressing her strong support for the sheep industry and her support of grocery stores carrying American lamb.

ASI's American Lamb Council launched a new advertising campaign at the convention. The campaign featuring the tag line (Meat Lovers Know) includes three new print ads that will soon appear in culinary and women's magazines. The new ads are the most significant effort to promote American lamb in nearly a decade. The ads are part of a comprehensive marketing campaign being funded by a one-time grant from USDA. In order for the program to continue, the sheep and lamb industry will need a checkoff program or some other self-help program.

Convention attendees also were updated on the status of the Farm Bill. Staffers from the offices of Bonilla, Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT) and Sen. Craig Thomas (R-WY) told attendees that the U.S. House of Representatives has passed its version of the Farm Bill, but the U.S.

Senate has yet to pass its version. Both bills include a loan deficiency payment program for wool.

During the convention, ASI's board of directors elected its slate of officers for 2002: president, Frank Moore, Douglas, WY; vice president Guy Flora, Cardington, OH; and secretary/treasurer, Paul Frischknecht, Manti, UT. The board also elected three new representatives to serve on the ASI Executive Board. They are: Margaret Soulen-Hinson, Weiser, ID, (Region VII -- ID, WY, MT); Burdell Johnson, Tuttle, ND, (Region IV -- IA, KS, MO, NE, OK, ND, SD); and Mark Marley, Roswell, NM, (Region VI -- AZ, CO, NV, NM, UT). In addition, NLFA elected Cleve Dumdi, Junction City, OR, to serve as the lamb feeder representative on ASI's Executive Board.

ASI is a national organization supported by 41 state sheep organizations, benefiting the interests of nearly 70,000 American sheep and goat producers and, for the first time, has the joint membership of NLFA.

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