The American Sheep Industry established the “2 Plus” Industry Initiative in 2011 to increase flock numbers in an effort to increase lamb and wool production. It is expecting a shortage in production within the United States resulting in not only loss of market share, but also in infrastructure needed to support a viable sheep industry. Industry discussion concluded that it was quite logical for SDSU Sheep Extension to adopt these goals as a foundation to build a highly integrated, far reaching collaborative program to serve the northern plains sheep industry through the “Growing South Dakota” concept.
Potentially new and beginning sheep ranchers (ranchers with <15 years of experience) are seeking assistance in finding land and livestock resources as well as educational opportunities to enhance their management knowledge and skills to establish successful ranching operations. We know that beginning sheep ranchers exist in South Dakota and they have a variety of experiences and challenges they are facing. We are excited that SDSU Extension has created a Sheep Field Specialist position in Western South Dakota to increase its support to the Sheep Industry. The timeliness fits with the American Sheep Industry’s “Let’s Grow with twoPLUS” initiative to expand the sheep numbers nationwide. (See attached ASI press release in appendices) We propose an intensive 3 year educational program to assist beginning ranchers in central and western South Dakota, a region dominated by rangelands and a rich sheep ranching history. Our goal is to provide beginning ranchers a curriculum that will equip them with the tools to make wise management decisions that will lead to economic, ecological, and sociological sustainability and in turn contribute to ongoing agricultural production, land stewardship, and rural community viability. South Dakota Extension, South Dakota Sheep Grower’s Association and the American Sheep Industry Association will form a collaborative partnership to conduct this program.
Agriculture in the Northern Great Plains is dominated by production on privately owned lands. Securing food availability and resource integrity, demands that these lands continue to be operated primarily for food production, along with stewardship that ensures maintenance and improvement of the natural resources (i.e., ecosystem goods and services) contributed by these lands. Rangelands of the Northern Great Plains, including western and central South Dakota, comprise a significant portion of the Missouri River Basin, and provide critical water and wildlife habitat resources. Ensuring preservation of this vast resource and its considerable supply of intangible values requires a healthy and sustained ranching industry. Many beginning operators have limited resources and possibly limited knowledge about productive sheep enterprise operations, land use management, and business planning. They may need help in transitioning into ranching and require access to a variety of resources and experiences to be successful and contributing members of their rural communities. Survival and vitality of rural communities, essential to operation of these lands, is critically tied to productive and profitable agriculture. Continuity in land ownership and management requires the entry of new operators.
The demographic of South Dakota producers is changing. According to the 2007 USDA Census of Agriculture, the number of producers under the age of 54 (all categories) has declined since the 2002 census, with a concomitant increase in producers over the age of 55. This project will focus on potential new and current sheep ranchers, assisting them in creating a financially viable production system that fits their resources and management goals. Beginning sheep ranchers are having difficulty finding resources, especially adequate land to be viable. Because of the remoteness and low population density of western and central South Dakota, availability of professional help, such as consultants, is virtually not available nor are consulting fees financially feasible for most ranchers. This project will develop a network of mentors (established sheep ranchers and agriculture professionals) to interact with beginning ranchers for the exchange of knowledge and skills, as well as the possible transfer of land to beginner ranchers. We propose to use mentors to develop management advisory teams for each participant.
Project team members have heard several reasons over the past several years why beginning sheep ranchers are not returning to the ranch or exiting within a few years of starting. These include 1) lack of adequate financial income to support the family structure, 2) lack of capital to expand the operation to be financially stable, 3) limited understanding of the sheep industry and 4) limit of available land to operate. The primary purpose of this program is to provide them with the knowledge of the entire sheep industry and the skills to assess change factors that will influence their bottom line. Additionally, the development of networking between beginning ranchers and mentors may provide beginning sheep ranchers with access to capital resources.
It is important that beginning ranchers are exposed to all elements of the sheep industry. Western and Central South Dakota has had a long tradition and reputation for producing high quality feeder lambs and wool fiber. . Most weaned lambs leave the region to be fed and slaughtered elsewhere, with little opportunity for local ranchers to know how their lambs perform post-weaning, their carcass merit, and/or to understand those segments of the industry. Additionally, ranchers often don’t grasp how consumers in large urban areas perceive the lamb and wool industry. According to the last census, the South Dakota population was 754,837 people. Our largest city, Sioux Falls has 123,975 people living in its city limits. We do not have the same opportunities that other states do to interact with large urban areas and large-scale wool processing, lamb feeding and packing operations. Thus, travel to urban centers and regions where large-scale wool processing, lamb feeding and packing occurs will be necessary to provide these broadening experiences. It is essential that beginning sheep ranchers are aware of all potential markets and products that consumers are demanding from the sheep industry. This understanding will help beginning ranchers to be responsive to market signals. Most beginning operators are so occupied with the challenges of getting started that they often under-estimate the importance of understanding all facets of the sheep industry.