Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Shepherds Needed in Ohio

America is demanding more domestic lamb, sheep, and wool; will Ohio farmers answer the call? Experts say the sheep-herding business is becoming more profitable and lucrative as the industry shifts in Ohioans’ favor.

The drying up of pastures and government subsidies in Australia and New Zealand have caused a supply shortage in the industry. At the same time, American consumers and corporations are looking closer to home where they are paying record premiums. More than 30% of American lamb is now selling through fast-growing marketing channels like farmers markets, direct farm-to-consumer sales and smaller processors serving niche markets. This year Wal-mart announced a commitment to buy only American lamb for the next 2 years, and Kroger, which boasts 60% of all retail lamb in the U.S., launched a branded campaign committed to American lamb with further category growth.

To satisfy this growing demand, the American Sheep Industry Association is calling for currentand new shepherds to increase the national inventory through the “Grow our Flock” campaign and “Let’s Grow with twoPlus” initiative. Many experts are saying that Ohio farmers are in prime position to start a herding business or add a new profit-stream to their farm.

Ohio Sheep Improvement Association (OSIA) President Jim Percival said there is already demand, infrastructure and knowledge in place to support more sheep and new farmers.

“We’ve been able to put together programs (from Sheep Days to educational symposiums) thatwill take people from step one all the way through to the end of the production cycle,” he said.“This all makes it easy for somebody to get in (to the industry) and move forward with us.”

Daryl Clark, OSIA Vice President, said there is room to grow in the hills of eastern Ohio, where he raises sheep in Muskingum County.“We have land where you cannot grow crops, but we can grow grass and do a good job of it,” he said. “There is no other livestock that I think has adapted as well to this area than sheep have.”

Curt Cline of Albany, Ohio says that his herd is a low-cost, low-labor business that works well with his off-farm job as a fireman. He sees his operation as the definition of “sustainable;” taking unprofitable forage and turning it into dollars. He the farm has been in his family for 8 generations and he expects many more. Read more about his grass-fed herd at GrowOurFlock or watch this video.

For more details, stories, and toolkits for Ohio shepherding…

2011 Buckeye Shepherd’s Symposium

  • Saturday, December 10, 2011

Weaving a Successful Business - Kirkwood Farm

  • Article on retired Ohio couple with growing sheep business

Grow Our Flock, Let’s Grow with twoPlus

  • Direction for new producers
  • Tools and information for successful Management Practices
  • Forum for shepherds and sheep industry

Ohio’s Call for Shepherds

  • Article on growing demand and Ohio’s potential

Raising Ohio Sheep

  • Eric. L. Bruns, Powell, Ohio
  • Video of Riverwood Farms and protecting your herd

Ohio leads national drive to build sheep numbers

  • Article from Farm and Dairy

USDA – Record Lamb Prices and Positive Industry Outlook

OSU Sheep Team

  • Information on breeding, events, grazing, footrot, health, management, marketing, nutrition, parasites, predators, wool, and more

Ohio Sheep Improvement Association OSIA

Mid-States Wool Growers

  • Wool Cooperative in Canal Winchester, Ohio
  • News, marketing, and management info

Below is the official release from The Associated Press

With higher demand, Ohio needs more shepherds

The Associated Press

(11/06/11 07:15:23)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Ohio is looking for a few good shepherds. A growing demand for domestic lamb, sheep and wool is fueling an urgent call by the American Sheep Industry Association and the Ohio Sheep Improvement Association for more Ohioans to get into the sheep-herding business, and for existing producers to expand their flocks.

The cause is the confluence of the decline in sheep imports from Australia and New Zealand caused by drought and the increase in the number of Americans, particularly immigrants, who consume lamb as a primary protein.

Contributing factors include requirements by the U.S. military to purchase only domestic wool for military uniforms, and a move by The Kroger Co. and Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. to sell more domestic lamb in their stores, said Peter Orwick, executive director of the American Sheep Industry Association.

Lamb and wool prices are at record highs, and the market for ewes is strong. But there is concern among growers nationwide that the U.S. sheep flock is not large enough to keep up with the demand, he said.

Orwick was among a group of sheep producers and industry officials who held a recruiting event in late October at Riverwood Farms in Powell aimed at encouraging current Ohio sheep producers to increase their flocks by two ewes per 100, and to get more people interested in entering the business. The group is looking to create programs to encourage new producers to get into the business as well as trying to identify ways to help new producers find financing to buy land and sheep.

"The demand for lamb is huge right now, and Ohio is at the epicenter," he said. "Kroger is now selling U.S. lamb on its private label, which is huge for the industry.

"And one out of every three lambs that are sold now is sold directly from the farm, in farmers markets and by small producers."

Kroger also obtains some of its lamb directly from state and county fair sales, and 100 percent of its Private Selection lamb is from American producers, said spokeswoman Amy McCormick.

"We recently purchased 25 lambs at the Fairfield County Fair and sold them at our two Lancaster Kroger locations," she said. "All Kroger lamb is domestic."

This is significant for Ohio, which has about 3,400 sheep producers, making it the sixth-largest producing state, Orwick said.

Ohio lamb and sheep producers earned $12.5 million last year, with the state's production totaling 129,000, the 12th-largest of any state, said Charles Mayzlick, of the Ohio field office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service.

That's an increase from the $11 million Ohio growers earned in 2009, with 128,000 head of sheep, he said.

Lamb and wool prices are at a 20-year high, said David Rowe, manager of Mid States Wool, a textile warehouse in Canal Winchester.

Wool prices, for example, range now anywhere from 30 cents a pound to $2 a pound depending on the grade of the wool. That compares with 5 cents to $1 a pound this time last year, Rowe said.

"There is more demand out here for the product than the supply that is available," he said. "We just can't supply enough products to those large stores to cover every day of the year.

"That's why we're trying to bring some exposure to the issue and shine the spotlight on our industry. Raising sheep is a profitable thing - there's money to be made in sheep."

But the problem is that Ohio's sheep producers as a group are aging, said Roger High, executive director of the Ohio Sheep Improvement Association.

There is a significant need to get more young people into the sheep production business, said High, who is also an Ohio State University Extension specialist.

"We're not very many years from those people leaving the business because they're too old," he said. "And if someone doesn't come in to take over those numbers, we're going to lose a lot of jobs in the industry and a lot of sheep."

The key is to educate more young growers and offer mentoring programs to get them into the business, High said. It can be a difficult industry to break into because land and sheep are expensive and the work is hard, he said.

But that hasn't been a deterrent for Eric Bruns, 35, who raises sheep at Riverwood Farms. Bruns, who grew up on a poultry farm and earned a degree in animal science from Ohio State, said tending sheep is "in his blood."

"You've got to have a passion for this business," he said, as he hand-fed milk to a flock of lambs. "It's hard work, and not a lot of people my age are interested in doing it.

"But we hope to get more people educated and interested in the industry. Any time you can put a positive spin on agriculture in any form is good."

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Statewide Food System Assessment proclaims “Athens Sets the Tone”

Written by Tom Redfern

Ken Meter, agricultural economist and food system analyst with the Crossroads Resource Center in Minnesota has just finished a timely look at Ohio Agriculture, which traces Ohio’s historic dependence on exports to a currently emerging system of local food business clusters that the author states “ create mutually supportive economic opportunities, builds financial resilience, and strengthens the state’s social fabric”. Commissioned by the University of Toledo Urban Affairs Center with funds from the Ohio Department of Agriculture, this work underscores the potential as well as current economic and social impacts of local food systems in Ohio.

The study highlights ten key findings as well as a summary of recommendations in response to these findings. The Author features local food “business clusters” that those in the Athens area will be pleasantly familiar with, including the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks, (ACEnet), Shagbark Seed and Mill, the Athens Farmers Market, and the ground breaking work of local foods pioneer Leslie Schaller. Our own “Dairy Evangelist” Warren Taylor is featured. Meter describes Snowville Creamery, the business Taylor started with his Wife Victoria as “ …a complex web of business connections that fosters healthy farming practices, provides exceptional quality milk and ice cream, buys fruits and vegetables from Ohio farmers, and nurtures a network of support industries”.

The section titled “Amish Farms Grow a Produce Industry” sheds an interesting light on the culture and business model that has given rise to the Chesterhill Produce Auction, another one of our regions “local food business clusters”. Meter describes the rise of Produce Auctions in Ohio and the current $10 million plus yearly economic impact they have, and the leading role Amish producers have in the local food system as “almost unwitting”. Meter relates how the Amish farmers, most of whom prefer animal based agriculture, came to sell produce as dairy prices and demand plummeted in the mid 1990’s.

Success stories notwithstanding, one key finding in this study gets my attention the most; that is that $30 billion flows away from Ohio each year due to the current prevailing structure of the farm and food economy. Scaling up our successes to capture this outflow in this time of economic hardship seems to be challenge that hopefully works like this will help us to focus on, and invest in at both the private and public level.

Check out this thought provoking and inspiring work at

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