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We Can Do Better
Clint Krebs, ASI President
By now I hope most of you have heard of the Lamb Industry Roadmap for Improvement. It has been an ongoing project of the American Lamb Board (ALB) since January. The time and effort put forth to achieve this report has been tremendous. I have had the opportunity to be involved since the beginning and have heard a lot of comments from my fellow sheep producers about the project. I realize there are a lot of opinions out there about how to improve our industry.
The first thing, there is no one silver bullet nor a quick fix. I know, and everyone working on this project knows, we are operating below the cost of production. Most bankers frown on this type of scenario. The second thing, there is no one single cause for the market collapse, and there is no one segment to blame. The third thing, with feeder lamb prices increasing each year from 2002 through 2011, our industry has proven we can stabilize prices at the farm and ranch gate for nearly a decade. Not many agriculture commodities can say that.
So why do I feel this time will be any different? First, we had all segments of the industry at the table, the packers and processors, the lamb feeders, the producers, the American Sheep Industry Association, ALB, the National Sheep Industry Improvement Center, seedstock producers and sheep researchers. Second, an outside facilitator was hired with experience in agriculture. Third, we refuse to fail. We all know that if we are unsuccessful, there will not be a “next time.”
Now, if you feel like we did and that we cannot survive a “next time,” then each and every one of you has to do your part. First, get a copy of the report, either online or request a hard copy from ALB and read it. Yes it is long and detailed, but I will bet the Australian and New Zealand importers read every word of it. Second, complete the survey about the report. If you have an operation where you have a second generation interested in the sheep industry, get them to make comments. During the process of preparing this roadmap we asked for your opinions and sent out over 7,000 e-mails asking for comments. There were only 39 responses. If we are not willing to help ourselves then we are doomed to be at the mercy of these erratic markets.
Next, everyone has to do their part. This report includes a timeline, action items and assigns responsibilities for insuring completion. I feel these critical components were missing from previous efforts. The primary input is your prioritization of nearly a dozen action items identified. Which are the most important to your operation and the overall industry to be developed first? Which actions need to be funded as a priority?
The most important reason for insuring the success of the sheep industry is because our efforts over the years have created a very loyal customer who wants and is willing to pay for quality American lamb. Those customers are still out there and they are still willing to pay for quality lamb in which we can be profitable in producing, feeding and processing lambs. In fact, out of all the major protein groups, lamb has the highest ranking for new restaurant menus entrees. Retail sales and food service sales are up. Lamb prices are rising at a sustainable rate, not at the accelerated rate of 2011 which led to the drop in demand.
As a rancher I have always felt pleasure in knowing I was providing food and fiber to hundreds of other people who didn’t have the opportunity or resources to raise their own. We can do better.