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Source: American Sheep Industry Association news release

American wool epitomized the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI)/National Lamb Feeders Association annual convention held in Charleston, S.C., on Jan. 22-25. The conference theme, Weaving a Path to the Future, included tours of wool processing plants to offer a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for sheep producers to see the transformation of their raw wool into high-end finished products.

"Another reason for the record attendance at this year's convention was the up-beat attitude among farmers and ranchers due to the September turn around in feeder lamb prices and the much needed relief from the record high grain prices," said Peter Orwick, ASI executive director.

America's only remaining wool scouring, combing and carding plant -- Chargeurs (USA) Inc. -- opened the doors of its Jamestown, S.C., facility to nearly 300 meeting attendees to provide an opportunity to view the process of converting greasy wool into top. The superwash line -- a continuous wool-top shrink-proofing treatment piece of equipment that alters the fiber in wool products, allowing them to be washed and dried without shrinking -- was viewed by tour participants.

This process is the most reliable shrink-resistance treatment for wool available on the market. It not only helps fill domestic commercial-wool orders, but also maintains and expands the use of American wool in the valuable U.S. military market.

Top from Chargeurs is moved down the supply-chain to Burlington Industries in Raeford, N.C. The second stop on the fiber tour gave producers the occasion to hear the story of turning top into fabric. The detailed processes of dying, blending, yarn spinning and fabric weaving were all demonstrated.

One attendee, after watching a Burlington employee pluck vegetable matter from the finished fabric, confessed that seeing this step in the processing chain will make him more diligent in delivering a quality wool clip, noting, "This is definitely one of the many advantages we as producers gain when we get to follow our wool through the processing chain."

Undersecretary Edward Avalos of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Marketing and Regulatory Program kicked off the board of directors (BOD) meeting by addressing his department's work with ASI, including the "$5 million in lamb meat purchases designed to benefit sheep producers. The lamb market improved this fall and the purchases were considered helpful."

Avalos praised the Agriculture Marketing Service Market News division for its commitment to ensuring timely and accurate market reports. He also relayed the need for allocating appropriate funding for the livestock protection program of Wildlife Services.

Jeanne Carver of Imperial Stock Ranch in Oregon shared her heart-felt story about having her wool sourced by Ralph Lauren for use at the 2014 U.S. Winter Olympic in Sochi, Russia. Carver teamed up with Ralph Lauren to create a hand knit sweater for the athletes to wear for the opening ceremony.

"I got a call from a man asking me about our yarns-he told me he was with product development at Ralph Lauren. I had thought he was a local yarn shop owner, but he assured me he was on Madison Avenue in New York. I told him that I was sitting outside in the Oregon desert and asked him if he could hear my sheep. I held up the phone and let him listen," said Carver.

A panel of four wool industry representatives shared with the BOD their concerns with the two sets of proposed trade agreements currently being negotiated by the United States. They shared the impacts and opportunities the Asian and European agreements could have on the future of the textile industry in the United States and particularly the impact on wool.

Jack Ewing, Crescent Hosiery Mill chief executive officer and a great proponent of wool in socks, praised the BOD by saying, "Bringing a superwash line to the United States was the best thing you could have done for the wool industry in this country. American made products is a reality we didn't have a couple years ago."

As the Let's Grow campaign moves into its third year, positive results were reported from the projects funded by this initiative. It was noted that the SheepSD of South Dakota Extension, the ASI webinar series conducted by Optimal Ag and the three-state series (Ohio, Maine and Maryland) have reached thousands of producers across the country.

Diversified sessions ranged from parasite management and reducing labor to marketing options and feeding for fiber production. The new breeding-sheep loan program developed by the National Livestock Producers Association, with ASI support, was presented to the campaign committee.

Common presentations provided by Robert Ludwig, The Hale Group, were held across many organizational meetings to update attendees of the findings and recommendations presented in the final Lamb Industry Roadmap, an industry-wide project jointly funded by the American Lamb Board and the National Sheep Industry Improvement Center.

The ASI board of directors approved plans to be actively involved in the sheep productivity improvement and the communication teams through its Let's Grow campaign and its research and educational functions of the Producer Education and Research Council.

Elected to the ASI executive board during the board of directors meeting on Jan. 25, were Ken Wixom (Idaho), Region 7, which is comprised of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, and Milt Ward (Idaho), filling the lamb feeder seat on the board. Larry Pilster (Mont.) and Don Gnos (Ore.) retired from the executive board.

ASI is a national trade organization supported by 46 state sheep associations, benefiting the interests of more than 81,000 sheep producers.

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