A proposed order for a national lamb checkoff program was published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in the Sept. 21 Federal Register.

The American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) encourages U.S. sheep industry members to review the order and provide feedback during the 60-day comment period.

Under the proposed program, U.S. lamb producers and feeders and lamb packers would pay an assessment. The program would represent the only livestock checkoff program of its kind in which packers are assessed. Individual U.S. lamb producers and feeders would pay a one-half cent per pound assessment based on live weight. Lamb packing companies would pay 30 cents per carcass. The proposed order calls for a deduction at sale; however, remittance would occur at the slaughter level for most transactions.

A lamb checkoff program proposal has been in development for some time. In May, 1999, USDA brought together a task force together of all segments of the industry to investigate lamb checkoff possibilities.

"The industry task force did a solid job of building a proposal, with the proposed order published by USDA closely mirroring the language submitted by the task force. USDA conducted an excruciatingly thorough review of the program and now is providing a comment period, which will present our industry with one of the most important decisions our businesses will make this year," said ASI President and Wyoming sheep producer Frank Moore. "That decision, hopefully, is to comment positively on this order. With the disastrous live lamb prices, I think I echo many, many statements I have recently heard that we need a dramatic change in the lamb industry, and we need to help ourselves. It takes industry funds and industry-wide participation to accomplish meaningful changes in the lamb market."

Moore added, "I am very pleased to see USDA put forward the assessment on packers, an industry-wide board, an affordable rate of assessment and an efficient collection and remittance process. I sincerely hope folks in our business will comment positively and at least give the program a try."

The order calls for a delayed referendum to be conducted no later than three years after assessments begin. During this three-year period, full refunds may be requested.

Lamb imports would not be assessed under the proposed order.

"Assessing imports was an issue of much discussion among task force members," Moore said. "It was recommended by that group that imports be excluded, so that checkoff funding could be used to exclusively promote American lamb."

The proposed checkoff is expected to raise approximately $3 million each year and would fund a promotion, research and information program. The programs goals would be to increase demand for lamb, maintain and expand markets for American lamb and lamb products and to compete against rising foreign imports of low-priced lamb.

The program would be administered by a Lamb Promotion, Research and Information Board appointed by the U.S. secretary of agriculture. Industry organizations would nominate representatives to serve on the 12-member board, which would include: Six producer representatives (three each from two regions), three feeder representatives; two packers-processors; and one seedstock producer.

Some in agriculture are questioning whether checkoff programs can exist the way they currently are structured.

"The U.S. lamb industry has a choice of continuing to do little to nothing to support American lamb, while waiting out the court challenges, or getting a national program in place before we enter another year with lambs at these severely depressed prices," Moore said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Marketing Service has posted a copy of the proposed Lamb Promotion, Research, and Information order to its Website, at http://www.ams.usda.gov/lsg/. Copies of the rules and additional information also are available at the address listed in the following paragraph, or by calling (202) 720-1115.

Comments on the proposed order must be submitted no later than Nov. 20, 2001, to Ralph L. Tapp, Chief, Marketing Programs Branch, AMS Livestock and Seed Program; USDA Stop 0251, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW; Washington, DC 20250.

Comments may also be submitted electronically to ralph.tapp@usda.gov or by fax, at (202) 720-1125.

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