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Honored to Lead a Group That Remains True to Its Mission
By Burton Pfliger
I am humbled and honored to have been granted this opportunity to serve this great group we know as the American Sheep Industry Association.
We find ourselves in a very enviable and historic place in both our history and that of American agriculture. Few institutions or organizations ever achieve what our organization has with a 150-year service record to the sheep producers of the United States. We share a unique and special time in the development of our country and its agriculture heritage.
On Dec. 3, 1861, Abraham Lincoln before a joint session of congress proposes an Agricultural Department. He calls it the “people’s Department, in which they feel more directly concerned than in any other.” Lincoln follows through and signs a bill creating the Department of Agriculture on May 15, 1862, on May 20 he signs the Homestead Act and by July 20 he signs the Morrill Act donating land to states for colleges of agriculture.
It was truly a magical time in agriculture, in which all seemed possible and the sky was the limit. We owe a great debt of gratitude to those producers who organized in 1865 amidst the greatest conflict fought on our soil who saw a need and a purpose to organize as the National Wool Growers. Perhaps the Great War played a part in the need of their time. Perhaps it was the demand for wool clothing of the great armies. What we do know is something meaningful occurred in the town hall of Syracuse, New York, on Dec. 12, 1865. When the National Association of Wool Manufacturers sent a letter to the Wool Growers Association, they envisioned a meeting to “compare views” and identify common interests so both manufactures and wool growers could “go hand in hand in promoting one of the most important sources of agricultural and manufacturing prosperity of the nation."
When you stop and reflect on the meetings and activities of the American Sheep Industry today much is still the same. We still meet in an annual forum called the Sheep Industry Convention to compare views and share information and ideas. We still collectively join hand in hand to promote the virtues, policy and most meaningful source of renewable wealth to each of our farms and ranches.
After 150 years, we are still true to the founding of our organizations mission.
Our journey here has not been without our own trials and tribulations. ASI/National Wool Growers has been blessed with very talented and dedicated leaders throughout our history. I want to thank Peter Orwick and the entire staff for their commitment and dedication and years of service that has shepherded ASI through the good times and the trying times.
When the National Wool Growers fell on hard times with the removal of the Wool Act, much uncertainty gripped our industries future. It was with the combined leadership of a young man from South Dakota and dedicated volunteer leaders that tough decisions had to be made and the sheep man’s voice was reorganized into the American Sheep Industry Association we know today.
Today, ASI has emerged from a long corridor of history and has been afforded the opportunity to stand tall and reflect on all we have accomplished in 150 years. The walls of the corridor of daily life and work is lined with images of leaders, family and people past and present who shaped our organization but more importantly shaped our individual ideals, values and work ethic.
We are about to embark on a journey down a corridor of the future where we will confront challenges known and unknown today. These challenges are many and confront us today. Activists seek to remove all grazing on public lands, big horn and domestic sheep grazing interface remains controversial, our own government will continue its efforts to close the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station, that same government will seek to impose more private property control through waters of the USA, Immigration and H-2A provisions remain undefined, PETA and HSUS will continue their perversion of American agriculture and wool harvesting, funding will be an issue in the next Farm Bill and the consuming public will continue to scrutinize American lamb for flavor, value, eating experience and consistency.
Our challenges are many but I know each of you is up to the challenge. Please consider making your voice known in Washington, D.C. this spring, March 23-25. Join your fellow producers expressing the sheep industry priorities to your Congressional members. It is a great experience for all ages. A privileged provision granted to each generation by those farsighted founders of our great country. So join your fellow producers and “go hand in hand and promote your most important issues” facing the sheep industry today.
I want to conclude with the spirit and essence of Theodore Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena” speech. From here forward let us embark on the road to high achievement. Let us enjoy the great enthusiasm and devotion of spending ourselves in a worthy cause in securing the position of the American Sheep Producer for the next 150 years.
Thank you for your membership, service and generosity you have shown this industry.