Delmarva Farmer Columnists


Understanding the lamb market (May 3, 2016)

Shepherd’s Notebook

By Susan Schoenian, Sheep and Goat Specialist, University of Maryland Extension

The two most important markets in the United States for sheep (and goats) are New Holland Sales Stables in New Holland, Pa, and Producer’s Livestock Auction in San Angelo, Texas.
The market in San Angelo handles the largest volume, whereas New Holland usually boasts the best prices.
At the same time, New Holland is the biggest sheep (and goat) market in the eastern half of the United States.
Each year, I graph prices to try to evaluate price trends.
Lamb prices are broken down according to the top three USDA quality grades: “Prime,” “Choice” and “Good.”
Quality grades relate to the eating quality of the meat: Prime lambs are the fattest and fleshiest, whereas Good lambs are the thinnest.
In the past, 98 percent of lambs graded Choice or better.
Prices are also reported according to yield grades.
Yield grades predict carcass cutablity. In lambs, they range from 1 to 5, with Yield Grade 1 lambs being the thinnest and 5 being the fattest.
Most lambs grade 2 or 3 (average back fat of 0.25 inches).
As sheep meat pays a significant role in the observance of various Christian, Jewish and Muslim holidays, lamb prices tend to peak before certain holidays.
The first peak of the year occurs in advance of Eastern Orthodox (or Greek) Easter.
However, sometimes, prices go up after Easter, as producers have flooded the markets with lambs in anticipation of higher prices.
It is important to note that there are two Easter celebrations (each observing a different calendar) and that there is a greater demand for lamb at Orthodox Easter than Roman (Western) Easter.
In more recent years, the highest lamb prices of the year have usually been observed prior to the Muslim Festival of Sacrifice (Eid al-Adha).
Ramadan and the festival that marks the end of fasting (Eid ul-Fitr) has less of an influence on lamb prices.
This year’s Festival of Sacrifice is scheduled to begin Sept. 12.
The Muslim markets tend to be growing whereas Easter seems to be a mature market.
The type of lamb demanded at each of these holidays varies.
A smaller (less than 60 pounds) lamb, fleshier and preferably milk-fed, is preferred for Easter, while Muslims generally want older, heavier (more than 60 pounds) lambs with less fat.
Sheep breeds also differ in their suitability for these markets. For example, while Katahdin and Suffolk lambs are well-suited to Eid, they don’t usually make desirable hot house lambs.
The price for lighter weight lambs (especially at Easter) almost always exceeds that of heavier lambs, but there is a trade-off between price and weight in terms of profitability.
Each producer needs to determine at which market weight he/she can make the most profit.
If lambs can be fed economically, it often pays to finish them to heavier weights, as my graphs don’t show much price difference between 70- and 100-pound lambs.
Depending upon breed and genetics, heavier weights may also improve the grade of the lamb.
There are significant prices differences for Prime, Choice, and Good grade lambs, with Prime-Choice lambs bringing higher prices, sometimes significantly higher.
In addition to the holidays, sometimes the highest prices of the year could be achieved towards the end of the year and after the first of the year.
While there is usually an increased demand for lamb at Christmas, it is mostly a supply and demand issue.
Few lambs are left from the spring lamb crop and there aren’t many fall-born lambs for marketing.
It may pay to hold late-born lambs until Christmas or after the first of the year.


Preparing for stormy weather (May 3, 2016)

Keeping the Farm

By Bob Wevodau, Ag Program Specialist, Farm Service Agency, Maryland

Transitions can be tough.
They can be tough in real life and they can be tough in nature.
As much as we love spring as a time of renewal, it doesn’t arrive without its own baggage.
As we prepare to plant and pack away our winter clothes for our summer clothes, Mother Nature is doing her own fighting.
Spring doesn’t just arrive with a gradual increase in temperatures, it is a battle.
We see periods where the warm air wins, and we see periods where it looks like the cold weather hasn’t quite had its final say.
It is a constant battle between air masses.
And like all battles, these fights also bring their own version of collateral damage.
When cold and warm air get into a shoving match storms result.
Many times these storms bring us the rain that makes the difference between a successful growing season and a miserable one, but often they can be excessive.
Tornadoes, hail, flash flooding and wind damage — they are all issues we must face in agriculture. 
Fortunately the Farm Service Agency has a variety of disaster programs that were created to help producers in cases where Mother Nature’s shoving matches get out of hand.
As we move from April into May, it’s probably a good time to review some of these programs. We all hope they aren’t needed, but they are good to be aware of just in case.
The Livestock Indemnity Program provides benefits to livestock producers for deaths in excess of normal mortality caused by adverse weather. LIP payments are equal to 75 percent of the market value of the livestock on the day before the date of death.
The Livestock Forage Disaster Program provides compensation to eligible producers that have suffered grazing losses due to drought conditions.
The drought must be a D2 or higher for at least eight consecutive weeks on the U.S. drought monitor, and payments are based on the severity of the drought.
The Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees, and Farm Raised Fish Program provides emergency assistance to eligible producers of livestock, honeybees and farm-raised fish for losses due to adverse weather.
ELAP covers losses that are not covered under other disaster assistance programs.
The Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program provides financial assistance to producers of noninsurable crops to protect against natural disaster that result in lower yields or crop losses, or prevents crop planting.
Eligible producers must apply for coverage and pay the applicable service fee by the application closing date for the crop.
The Emergency Conservation Program provides funding and technical assistance to farmers to rehabilitate farmland damaged by natural disasters which have led to conservation problems that, if left untreated, would impair or endanger the land or affect the land’s productive capacity.
The Tree Assistance Program provides assistance to eligible orchardist and nursery tree growers to replant or rehabilitate eligible trees, bushes, and vines lost due to natural disasters.
This is just a quick overview of the disaster programs that are available to producers.
If you have specific questions, it’s best to visit a local FSA office where they can go over the program specifics in more detail.
As the growing season gets under way, we are all hoping for the best, but in case of the worst it’s great to know these programs are out there.
By knowing them you are better prepared for what Mother Nature has to throw at you.
Though we can’t stop the weather, we can help you transition from a disaster back into productivity and make that transition a little less tough.