American Sheep Industry’s Spring Trip gathers representatives from 25 states

More than 80 members of the American Sheep Industry Association—representing 25 state affiliates—recently gathered in Washington, D.C., for the annual Spring Trip to meet with federal officials and their congressional representatives.

The meeting formally began with an ASI informational briefing and agency visits. Those in attendance were hosted at the U.S. Department of Agriculture for a full agenda of USDA speakers and joined by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. Key topics included the trade situation with China and the need for direct assistance for American wool and sheepskins, Wildlife Services, Forest Service grazing allotments and rangeland management, and the importance of research. In addition, as the administration has announced a trade agreement with the United Kingdom as one of its priorities, ASI members were able to express to the USTR their concerns about the impact that bringing lamb in from highly subsidized nations would have on the domestic market.

While some took the afternoon to begin their visits to the Hill, many continued the agency focus with a meeting at the Environmental Protection Agency. At EPA, sheep producers heard about the agency’s progress on rewriting and implementing the Waters of the United States Rule, discussed predator control issues and future engagement opportunities for agriculture.

From there, many headed to the Department of Interior for a meeting with the secretary’s office to focus on grazing on Bureau of Land Management lands, issues with predation by species protected under the Endangered Species Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and the agency’s efforts to celebrate ESA successes by delisting recovered species.

The meeting with Interior also proved a great opportunity to engage with the department regarding the recent announcement of a plan by Interior to provide USDA Wildlife Services with additional funding to hire bear conflict specialists in Montana. This was a tremendous step in the right direction to address issues producers and communities are facing from these species and came as a result of many years of working closely with ASI and the Montana Wool Growers Association.

“Our time with the agencies is always appreciated and we sincerely thank secretaries Perdue and Bernhardt, as well as Administrator Wheeler for making their staff available to the industry,” said Benny Cox, ASI president. “The chance to hear about and give feedback on programs the sheep industry relies on is a huge part of this trip. This year, we had a lot on the agenda to accomplish and a lot of wins to celebrate.

“We have heard clearly from sheep producers on the impact that Chinese tariffs have had on their ability to market wool and sheepskins. This has been a tough time for many in our industry and we were able to advocate vigorously for assistance with the USDA and USTR,” Cox continued. “We were also pleased to be able to share our appreciation for the administration’s support of the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station, the continued efforts to defend predator control, and additional assistance to handle issues with grizzlies in Montana.”

Following the agency visits, ASI members took to the Hill on Wednesday to visit directly with their congressional representatives and staffs in the U.S. House and Senate. For most, trade issues topped the list of priorities, namely ensuring wool and sheepskins are included in any future trade adjustment assistance program in the coming months. In addition, sheep producers took the opportunity to discuss the importance of livestock transportation and animal care concerns in response to the Electronic Logging Mandate, the importance of a viable guest herder program under special procedures, increased funding to hire additional staff at the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station, ensuring the continued full implementation of the scrapie program, supporting Wildlife Services, and the continuation of our bighorn sheep report language directing the land management agencies to work with the USDA Agricultural Research Service.

“I cannot overstate the importance of ensuring legislators hear directly from sheep producers on the issues that affect them the most,” said Cox. “This is a critical trip for the future of the sheep industry, and I thank the many sheep producers from 25 states who took time from their operations to join us in Washington, D.C.”