Sheep Producers Flock to Washington, D.C.
March 5, 2019

The crowd should have erupted into cheers, but most were simply caught off guard on Tuesday as Dr. Scott Hutchins - the nominee for U.S. Department of Agriculture deputy under secretary for research, education and economics - casually mentioned President Donald J. Trump's budget for Fiscal Year 2020 had removed the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station from the proposed closure list.

"This is the first time in several years that the station hasn't been on that list," said American Sheep Industry Association President Benny Cox, who joined more than 50 sheep producers and industry executives from 16 states in meeting with USDA and Department of the Interior officials during ASI's Spring Trip to Washington, D.C., this week. "This is a great step to get the station back on the research track with the ability now to hire scientists and tackle major resources and production topics for our industry. We also appreciate our friends in Congress who have helped keep the station open through the years as we worked to get it removed from the closure list."

The group heard from USDA Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Greg Ibach, who confirmed plans are moving forward on the Foot and Mouth Disease Vaccine Bank, scrapie eradication and more with regard to the American sheep industry.

"The FMD Vaccine Bank has turned into an animal health vaccine bank," Ibach said. "Right now, we're looking at how best to implement this while investing wisely in vaccines that will expire in five years. We're very interested in your thoughts on how we forward on this issue."

Producers asked the under secretary to actively support implementation of the Minor Use-Minor Species funding provision that ASI supported in the 2018 Farm Bill. Supporting new animal health products for sheep is a priority of ASI.

With regards to scrapie, Ibach said the department is looking to move past the use of simple ear tags.

"Your organization has been a key part for years in securing ear tag funding. Unfortunately, we are coming to the end of that program," he said. "Electronic ID tags are where we want the industry to be in the years to come. But we need to know which technology works for you and your industry. People in the sale barns, for instance, have different needs than a producer."

Ibach said the department is committed to the continued use of M-44's for coyote control.

"It's an important tool for livestock, but even more so for sheep than cattle," he said. "Both the secretary and I feel we need to be able to continue to use these tools."

Sheep producers from several states also had the opportunity to meet with Wildlife Services Associate Deputy Administrator Martin Mendoza and Western Regional Director Jason Suckow to discuss issues specific to their states.

Following agency meetings, Spring Tour participants headed to Capitol Hill to meet with their elected officials on a number of topics important to the American sheep industry. Among them were:

  • National Animal Disease Preparedness and Response Program;

  • Electronic Logging Mandate and Hours of Service concerns for livestock haulers;

  • International Trade Priorities.

The Spring Trip wrapped up with a lamb reception on Wednesday evening, which was attended by federal and congressional officials.