The nation’s sheep industry is facing some significant political challenges in the coming years, according to Roger High, with the Ohio Sheep Improvement Association.
“We have the potential to lose 50% of our national sheep flock due to H-2A and the environmentalists in coming years,” High said. “Politics will play a huge role in the livestock industry in the next few years.”
The Department of Labor is in process of proposing massive changes to procedures for H-2A Foreign Labor Certification program. The politics surrounding the H-2A, farm labor and immigration could mean significant and detrimental changes to western livestock operations that account for a majority of the nation’s sheep.
Those same ranches also face a tremendous set of challenges from the always-changing political whims of the Federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) that controls a vast amount of the grazing lands in the West.
“You can’t do anything else productive on that BLM land out there,” High said. “The only benefit to the American consumer on that land is to raise sheep and cattle and there are groups of people out there who don’t want us to use it.”
These two issues are a source of great concern for western sheep producers. At the same time, Ohio has seen an increase in sheep numbers.
“We had a 1% growth in the national sheep industry in 2014. Of that 35,000 head in national growth, 3,000 were in Ohio and that doesn’t include the Amish because they don’t do statistics. We have so much potential with markets here in the East,” High said. “I think we have three growth areas here in Ohio. The non-traditional sheep marketing to ethic groups will continue to grow, the Amish are really getting into sheep and the other big area is with club lambs because there are so many youth involved. It is exciting to be involved with something like what we are seeing in Ohio right now with sheep.”