Government aid available to Colorado wool producers

Many area sheep ranchers have wool to burn literally.

In recent years, the price of wool has been so low many sheep ranchers have been opting to destroy their wool instead of selling it.

An assistance program that could double what producers are earning per pound of wool may not encourage them to take their wool to the market place, but it may help producers earn more per pound produced.

The Farm Services Agency (FSA) offices are now authorized to issue wool payments to producers as part of the Wool and Mohair Market Loss Assistance Program.

The program will provide sheep ranchers with an extra 20 cents per pound of wool produced in 1999 and an extra 40 cents per pound of wool produced in 2000.

Lisa Jager, director of communications for the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI), said that along with more than doubling the amount of aid per pound of wool produced in 2000, the total amount of aid available will double. There will be $11 million available for 1999 wool and $20 million available for 2000 wool.

Sign up for the assistance program for 1999 wool began Oct. 10 and will continue through Dec. 29. Payments are available for wool sheared in marketing year 1999 (Jan 1, 1999 - Dec. 30, 1999). Wool that was sold in 1999, is still in storage, or was disposed of is still illegible for payment. Producers only need to certify accurate poundage of shorn wool on the application form, said Margaret Wright, agriculture program specialist for the Farm Services Agency.

Producers must have owned the sheep 30 days prior to being shorn and while they were being sheared.

Applications for the program and lists of criteria producers must meet to participate can be found at the county Farm Services Agency office in the Country Mall, or on the Internet at www.fsa.usda.gov/dafp/pds. The applications must be returned by Dec. 30.

If possible, ranchers are encouraged to bring documentation of how much wool they produced in 1999, but it isn't necessary to receive the aid.

"They don't have to provide any type of documentation," Wright said. "When they sign the application they are subject to spot checks, though."

The program was developed as part of the Agricultural Risk Protection Act of 2000. ASI fought hard for the program in the legislature, Jager said.

"We were very pleased," she said. "We hope as many producers as possible take advantage of the program."

A poor Asian economic situation and a casual dress trend, have cut wool prices dramatically in the past several years, explained Jager. The low prices were the catalyst for the program.

"Some producers haven't even bothered to sell their wool," Jager said. "The price has been so low in recent years that the value of the wool doesn't even cover the cost of shearing in some cases."

In 1999, the average price of wool was 38 cents a pound, the lowest price in history when adjusted for inflation.

Even though the aid has the appearance of a meal ticket for ranchers, Jager said ranchers aren't exactly going to start cashing in anytime soon.

"We have had a lot of other reporters from urban areas who are asking about program and wondering if ranchers are making out on it," Jager said. "In reality, the aid, in most cases, is just helping ranchers barely cover the cost of shearing. The aid doesn't mean huge dollar signs for ranch.

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