Let’s Grow Committee Begins to Build
The ASI Let’s Grow Campaign is getting a shot in the arm with the hiring of a new national coordinator and a plan to develop and distribute grant applications for this year’s $500,000 in available funding.
“This is an opportunity to strike while the iron’s hot,” Alan Culham, the new Let’s Grow coordinator, told the American Sheep Industry board of directors at ASI’s annual convention in Reno.
“We’re empowered to take the tools of productivity and put them into action,” said Culham. “Let’s use this opportunity to do some big things in the next three years. Let’s use this opportunity to make changes that will help us in the future.”
During the convention, the ASI Let’s Grow Committee made the decision to have the call for grant applications out by March 1 with a deadline of mid April, after which the applications will be reviewed and the grants distributed shortly after that.
Mike Corn, chair of the Let’s Grow Committee, underlined Culham’s urgency.
“We had a room full of excitement,” Corn said of the committee’s meeting. “This new initiative gives us $500,000 a year for next three years. In three years we want to look back and say we accomplished something big.”
Susan Schultz, chair of the ASI Production, Education and Research Committee, cautioned against duplicating efforts.
“We don’t want to duplicate program activities between Let’s Grow and the Lamb Industry Roadmap,” said Schultz. “We need to focus on cooperative efforts and expand our industry.”
Stanley Poe, Let’s Grow Committee member from Indiana, emphasized the value of Let’s Grow, the successor effort to 2+2.
“People questioned 2+2 when it started,” said Poe, “but the dollars we have approved have been well spent and the industry is growing.”
In addition to new funding and a new coordinator to spearhead growth in the sheep industry, Corn cited two other programs that are making a difference. One is the production education webinars conducted over the past three years, which are “giving a big bang for our bucks with great attendance,” along with their being posted on the ASI website. The other is Sheep South Dakota, an initiative funded at $20,000 for each of three years. Jay Parsons, a biosystems economist at the University of Nebraska, reported that the educational webinars were attended by 465 people, representing all 50 states and five Canadian provinces as well as South America and the Middle East. The first, conducted by Woody Lane, a grazing consultant from Oregon, titled Management Intensive Grazing 101, was attended by 135 people from 34 states, with a quality rating by attendees of 4.3 (a score of 5 being best). The final webinar, on accelerated lamb production, was conducted by Richard Erhardt, small ruminant specialist at Michigan State University. There were 150 attendees from 39 states who rated the webinar 4.7.
The online webinars supporting the flock expansion effort began in 2012. In all three years, attendance has totaled 1,084, with 676 of those being unique individuals. Thirty-six percent have attended two or more seminars.
For 2015, four webinars are planned with an attendance goal of 500 attendees. Parsons said topics being considered include on-farm biosecurity, the National Sheep Improvement Program breeding objectives, dairy sheep, productivity, sheep handling and business planning.
David Ollila, a sheep field specialist for South Dakota State University, said the Sheep South Dakota Project is designed to help expand both producer and sheep numbers through the Let’s Grow programs using state and regional resources. Among the program’s tools are to provide mentors for beginning sheep ranchers, develop production and management skills and establish ranch advisory teams and perpetual learning communities. To date, 42 producers comprise a learning community called Growing South Dakota Sheep Producers. And the beginning sheep producer committee has facilitated attendance at webinars, tours of feeding and processing facilities and the promotion of NSIP/EBV programs. Ollila said a valuable tool has been case studies, which involve visits to sheep operations to learn how each works from top to bottom.
The proposed activities for year three of Sheep South Dakota are more education, continuation of the mentoring program, grazing schools and engagement with ASI.
“We’re getting more young people involved,” said Ollila, “and promoting leadership skills for engagement in the local and, possibly, national level.”
Susan Schoenian, sheep and goat specialist with the University of Maryland, discussed a tri-state program for serving ethnic markets being conducted along with the University of Maine and Ohio State University.
To help interested producers navigate these nontraditional markets, the three universities developed four webinars supported by ASI’s Let’s Grow Campaign shown in November and December 2013. The webinars covered ethnic market background, understanding the ethnic consumer, understanding and evaluating market options and developing a marketing plan. They can be found at www.sheepandgoat.com/recordings.html.
Schoenian said the group is also working to create additional resources on business planning, when to market, what size lamb to market and selling into religious holidays.
Roger High, extension sheep associate at Ohio State University, reported on an effort in Maine, Maryland, Michigan and Ohio to develop a business planning workbook for sheep producers.
One challenge for the project is the difficulty of developing sheep farm business plan templates because of the wide diversity of sheep operations. Still, the project has succeeded in highlighting innovative lamb production practices and has held an Ohio Sheep Day focusing on productivity, profit and recordkeeping.
High cited the need for a new and beginning producer program.
“People are hungry for information on how to raise sheep, how to be more profitable, how to raise more lambs.”