On Friday, Family Farm Action Alliance, with input from independent sheep ranchers, submitted public comments to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) regarding a proposed rule change on how mandatory payments will be collected from sheep ranchers and processors. The proposed rule focuses on ensuring that “non-traditional first handlers, such as ethnic processors (butcher shops) and farmer’s market processors”– who are primarily already struggling independent businesses — collect and pay mandatory checkoff fees to the American Lamb Board by adding burdensome administrative adjustments and software upgrades.
The USDA’s American Lamb Board assesses mandatory payments from ranchers and processors, known as “checkoff” dollars, to promote the lamb market and fund lamb sector research. Checkoff programs have long been under fire for rife misuse of funds, including illegal lobbying, to benefit the largest corporate operators. In its public comments, Family Farm Action Alliance recommends AMS cover the costs of the proposed rule and not place the burden on small businesses and sheep ranchers.
This proposed rule comes in the wake of a major lamb processing plant closure in Greeley, Colorado earlier this year. The plant, bought by international corporate beef giant JBS, is the latest example of corporate consolidation that backs independent ranchers and producers into a corner leaving them with few, if any market options.
Carson Jorgensen, an sixth-generation Utah sheep rancher, said: “Ranchers are struggling as is. This year a foreign-owned company bought out and shut down one of the biggest lamb processing plants in the west, taking many market opportunities along with it. All the while “Industry Leaders” remained silent. It’s clear to me that we’ve been paying into a failed checkoff system that, at the end of the day, does nothing to help farmers and ranchers. We should have the say as to where our own money goes!”
In its public comments, Family Farm Action Alliance recommends broader checkoff reforms can be implemented that truly benefit farmers and ranchers: a return to a voluntary point of sale checkoff to allow farmers, ranchers and producers to opt into checkoff payments as they could when the programs were first established. This is in contrast with the proposed rule that would further dig for mandatory checkoff dollars from the few, struggling independent lamb producers left.
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