The Manitoba Sheep Association (MSA) has taken its first step toward creating an initiative to add more value to Manitoba-raised lambs and help member producers do a better job selling them.
Members at its annual meeting Nov. 18 widely supported a resolution calling for the establishment of what is to be called the Manitoba Sheep Enhancement Board.
The concept has been under discussion among directors since last spring, said Kate Basford, the northwest director and a Winnipegosis sheep producer.
The resolution voted on states that ‘the Manitoba Sheep Association should establish a Manitoba Sheep Enhancement Board to provide producers with another voluntary marketing option and provide marketing education and tools for producers.’
They are calling this an enhancement board rather than marketing board because of the emphasis to be placed on educating producers to improve production practices to meet market needs, Basford said.
“It’s another opportunity and another venue to market, but more so we’re really pushing the educational component,” she said.
“There really needs to be an educational component to teach producers what a good lamb is and what a finished lamb is. This is about learning to produce better lambs and understand markets and start thinking about how do you make more money.”
Demand for lamb is strong and their sector has tremendous potential to expand, but a clear need is for better understanding of the markets that want their commodity, she said.
“That’s very much a problem with Manitoba sheep producers right now,” she said. “We raise lambs… and then it’s, ‘let’s see who wants them,’ and we just sell them off. There has to be a mindset change.”
Education around market needs, feeding regimes and other requirements of finished animals for specific markets could go a long ways toward increasing potential sales, she said. The Greater Toronto Market, for example, is looking for very lean animals and for lamb at a certain time of year.
“Our producers need to know when they want to sell their animals, what the market is actually demanding at that time,” she said.
The initiative will also help facilitate greater communication between participating producers and buyers thereby offering increased market knowledge to sheep producers.
Other advantages touted in a pre-vote discussion at the annual meeting included how this would offer producers regular shipping opportunities, a chance for smaller flocks to be part of larger loads, knowledge of prices prior to loading and guaranteed payments.
Participation in the enhancement initiative will remain entirely voluntary, and any producer with any size of flock or breed could choose to take part as often or as infrequently as they so chose.
It actually remains to be seen whether this will get off the ground, Basford stressed, noting that last week’s vote only begins a process.
“This is step one,” she said.
The MSA must also seek approval for adding marketing to its articles of incorporation to get this started.
There were a fair number of questions raised during the AGM around how exactly an MSEB would operate and those details need further discussion through ongoing consultations with MSA members.
The new Canadian Agricultural Partnership (CAP) is a potential source of funding to support the various components of the program, which, in addition to offering more training and education opportunities for producers, would also include assembly points for loading animals and related staffing and administrative needs.
MSA directors say the program would operate on a revenue neutral basis.
The move is part of the MSA’s broader Vision 2020, a five-point action strategy aiming to bolster all segments of the Manitoba sheep industry.