Since they were brought over during the earliest explorations of North America, the sheep industry has played a vital role in the agricultural history of our nation. In the 1940s, there were over 55 million sheep in the U.S., but today those numbers hover around one-tenth of that total. There are about 80,000 sheep ranchers across the U.S., and, with support from the 2014 Farm Bill, they will have additional resources to help develop innovative approaches to address their long-term needs.
Consolidation of the U.S. sheep packing industry, higher feed and energy costs, loss of animals to predators and lower lamb consumption, along with competition from imported of lamb cuts, have taken their toll on U.S. sheep producers. In response to industry needs, USDA is committed to working with our stakeholders to ensure the long-term viability of the sheep industry.
Authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill and administered by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), the Sheep Production and Marketing Grant Program is designed to strengthen and enhance the production and marketing of sheep and sheep products in the United States. The National Sheep Industry Improvement Center (Sheep Center) is the first recipient of this grant. The Sheep Center will use these funds to award grants to other industry organizations, focusing on projects that will improve infrastructure, build business and develop industry-wide resources.
USDA is committed to supporting the U.S. sheep industry—and the thousands of rural communities that benefit from the jobs, food and other products it generates. This grant program will create new opportunities for growth and innovation for this long-standing piece of American agriculture.