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Tri-Lamb Group: 3 Countries, 1 Goal

10 May 2016

The Tri-Lamb Group is investing time and resources to identify future sheep industry leaders to promote cooperation, understanding and ultimately grow the sale of lamb for all three nations.

Emerging young stakeholders are identified and opportunities are created for networking and the sharing of ideas.

The Sheepmeat Council of Australia (SMCA), Beef + Lamb New Zealand and the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) comprise the Tri-Lamb Group - a coalition of global sheep industry organisations. It was established in 2004 to connect Australia, New Zealand and the United States with a common mission - to promote awareness and increase lamb consumption in the US.

Setting up the Tri-Lamb Group made sense for Southern Hemisphere producers looking to promote their product to potential consumers in North America. Spreading the word about the pleasures and health benefits of eating lamb was deemed a practical investment of resources to target potential US customers, often sceptic of lamb.

The spirit of cooperation may conceal some degree of self-interest. Currently the US is a significant market for Australian and New Zealand lamb; 179 million lbs of lamb arrived in 2015 comprised of 72 per cent Australian and 27 per cent New Zealand.

From the US viewpoint, the formation of Tri-Lamb Group in 2004 offered the opportunity of a closer alliance with Australia and New Zealand, both significant competitors with the capability of steep discounting and market saturation. Unity and collaboration seemed a more sensible and hopefully more profitable proposition for each nation.

Over time this collaboration has flourished. Representatives from Australia and New Zealand typically attend annual conferences hosted by the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI). These Southern Hemisphere representatives travel to the US to support, promote and collaborate with The American Lamb Board, the entity tasked to enhance the image of lamb in the US.

US, Australian and New Zealand delegations at the Tri-Lamb group meeting in Reno in 2015

Tri-Lamb Group initially promoted the nutritional benefit of lamb to US consumers. Nowadays, social media expands this message by broadcasting to a wider audience. Other influential entities including the US domestic retail supply chain engage in similar messaging.

Other collaborative initiatives include tackling predation issues affecting sheep flocks in all three nations. The sharing of research and pertinent experience to find solutions to effectively deal with predation helps producers’ maintain profitability.

More recently the Tri-Lamb Group worked to create broader awareness of commitment, professionalism and dedication of those working in the sheep industry. The logical progression has been to highlight the next generation of future talent through their new Young Leaders Programme.

This programme seeks to identify from within the Tri-Lamb Group countries individuals 22-40 years of age. The participants are supported and encouraged to become future leaders.

Megan Wortman, Executive Director, The American Lamb Board explained: “The plan is for the young people from the three countries to come together annually to network, learn from each other and foster deeper involvement within the wider sheep sector.”

The US Young Leaders group will be in place for two years. Originally two American sheep industry participants were set to go to Australia and New Zealand with reciprocal visits to the US in 2017.

Ms Wortman said: “Such was the response (50 candidates) and calibre that four young leaders have now been chosen to take part.”

The trip in early August 2016 includes the Australian Lamb Expo, Lambex, in Albury, New South Wales - a premier sheep event on the Australian calendar. These Young Leaders will meet with Australian counterparts and visit sheep operations before heading to New Zealand.

In New Zealand, Ben O’Brien, General Manager, Market Access, Beef + Lamb NZ echoed many of the sentiments around the Tri-Lamb Group: “This is about agricultural diplomacy to some extent. The world’s becoming a smaller place and though New Zealand’s been involved with exporting to the US for a long time, it’s about working more closely together for the mutual good.”

Mr O’Brien feels it’s all about fostering better connections and understanding between sheep producing nations: “There’s an opportunity to demystify some aspects around the perspective of Australia and New Zealand as the sheep meat behemoths.”

Mr O’Brien explained the proposed itinerary for their guests while in New Zealand: “They will spend a couple of days on the North Island viewing hill country properties, a couple of processing plants and have opportunity to talk with some researchers.”

He added: “Then down to the South Island where we’re looking to tie them up with The Nuffield Organisation, hear some presentations and visit more farms.”

The idea for a new Young Leaders Programme has roots in the SMCA decision to include a young producer in their 2014 delegation attending the ASI Reno, Nevada convention as part of the Tri-Lamb Group.

The first selected Young Producer, Jamie Heinrich was 25 years old. Jamie’s home is Kangaroo Island near Adelaide. The Heinrichs are a family with deep roots in the Australian sheep industry. Jamie’s grandfather worked with the University of New South Wales in 1978 to help develop the White Suffolk.

Jamie Heinrich on farm on Kangaroo Island

Mr Heinrich is praiseworthy of the opportunity afforded him to travel to the US in this role with SMCA.

He commented: “There’s such a great opportunity to get more young people into the industry. Some of those already involved may grow into future leadership roles.” Adding: ”We must keep the channels open, there was so much to learn from my travelling to the States and seeing how they operate.”

Promoting lamb to the American public through the Tri-Lamb Group is a challenge Mr Heinrich relishes: “It’s about increasing productivity. Even a small amount of improved consumption of lamb in the US equates to a lot of money back home given our relative market share.”

Though his two-year stint has officially concluded Mr Heinrich still hopes to travel to the US for future Tri-Lamb Group conferences building on friendships and connections forged under his SMCA sponsorship.

The Tri-Lamb Group collaboration of three nations who compete for US lamb market share may appear an unlikely premise. Clearly the exchange of ideas and sharing of knowledge to ensure the future for sheep industry leaders is mutually beneficial.

John Wilkes

John Wilkes
Freelance journalist

John Wilkes is a former UK Sheep producer now living in Washington DC. His experience in both the UK and USA gives him a unique perspective on livestock and food production.

Nowadays he writes and consults about livestock and agriculture. He also hosts a broadcast radio program called The Whole Shebang on Heritage Radio Network from Brooklyn, New York.

John is a board member of The Livestock Conservancy in the U.S. and a member of The American Sheep Industry Association.