On July 23, 2010, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) published an interim rule in the Federal Register that established the National Sheep Industry Improvement Center (Sheep Center). The interim rule became effective on September 21, 2010. The interim rule outlined the purpose of the Sheep Center, basic rules for operation, nomination process, responsibilities for the Board of Directors (Board), and generally described how the funding is to be used. The Board administers the programs with oversight by AMS.
On December 7, 2011, AMS published the final rule in the Federal Register. The program became effective on December 8. This final rule authorizes a grant only program to be administered by the Board.
The Sheep Center solicits competitive grants that are reviewed by the Board. Grants are awarded for research on new technologies, or knowledge that will improve the efficiency, profitability, and quality of the sheep or goat industry and as seed money for the production and commercialization of new and innovative processes. These grants are evaluated against a Strategic Plan developed by the Board and approved by USDA.
The Sheep Center was initially authorized under the Consolidated Farm and Rural Development Act (Act). The Act, as amended, was passed as part of the 1996 Farm Bill (Pub. L. 104-127). The initial legislation included a provision that privatized the Sheep Center 10 years after its ratification or once the full appropriation of $50 million was disbursed. Subsequently, the Sheep Center was privatized on September 30, 2006 (72 FR 28945).
In 2008, the Sheep Center was re-established under Title XI of the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (Pub. L. 110-246), also known as the 2008 Farm Bill. Section 11009 of the 2008 Farm Bill repealed the requirement in section 375(e)(6) of the Act to privatize the Sheep Center. Additionally, the 2008 Farm Bill provided for $1,000,000 in mandatory funding for fiscal year 2008 from the Commodity Credit Corporation for the Sheep Center to remain available until expended, as well as authorization for appropriations in the amount of $10 million for each of fiscal years 2008 through 2012.
The purpose of the Sheep Center is to: (1) Promote strategic development activities and collaborative efforts by private and State entities to maximize the impact of Federal assistance to strengthen and enhance production and marketing of sheep or goat products in the United States; (2) Optimize the use of available human capital and resources within the sheep or goat industries; (3) Provide assistance to meet the needs of the sheep or goat industry for infrastructure development, business development, production, resource development, and market and environmental research; (4) Advance activities that empower and build the capacity of the U.S. sheep or goat industry to design unique responses to the special needs of the sheep or goat industries on both a regional and national basis; and (5) Adopt flexible and innovative approaches to solving the long-term needs of the United States sheep or goat industry.
The law provides that the Sheep Center’s Board be composed of 9 members (7 voting, 2 non-voting). Of the voting members, four must be sheep or goat producers in the United States; two should have expertise in finance and management; and one should have expertise in lamb, wool, goat, or goat product marketing. The non-voting seats are designated for USDA’s Under Secretary of Marketing and Regulatory Programs and USDA’s Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics. The Secretary of Agriculture selects appointees nominated by any national organization whose membership consists primarily of active sheep or goat producers in the United States; and the primary interest of the organization is the production of sheep or goats in the United States.
The Sheep Center was authorized $1 million to utilize for grants that will support facility and infrastructure improvements and other initiatives to help the lamb and goat industries remain competitive. Grant funding is contingent upon two actions by the Board: 1) submission of a Strategic Plan to the Secretary, and 2) selection of proposals from eligible members of the industry. In order to receive funding, an entity must promote the betterment of the U.S. sheep or goat industries and be a public, private, or cooperative organization; be an association, including not-for-profit; be a federally-recognized Indian Tribe; or a public or quasi-public agency.