A national lamb co-operative could be created within days, giving Canada’s producers a powerful tool to build markets and create demand.
“It seems certain that the process will complete and that we will in fact have a national co-op,” Canadian Lamb Producers Co-operative president Pat Smith told the Manitoba Sheep Association’s annual meeting.
He said federal government lawyers are expected in the week of March 4 to approve and forward a recommendation to the federal cabinet to create a national lamb purchasing and marketing co-operative.
The co-op will fix problems that are keeping Canadian lamb out of Canadian grocery stores, he added.
It will arrange transportation of lambs to processors and will be able to arrange a steady supply of lamb to grocery stores.
Many lamb producers have trouble getting their lambs to market, and grocery stores can’t get reliable supplies of Canadian lamb.
Safeway carries foreign lamb, and Superstore carries domestic meat only sporadically.
However, Smith said Safeway and Superstore have been “aggressively moving” with the co-op organizers so that they can steadily supply Canadian lamb to shoppers.
The co-operative plans to gather lambs at provincial assembly points and ship them to federally inspected slaughterhouses.
Smith said the co-op’s purpose isn’t to steal existing markets from other lamb suppliers but to get more lamb into stores by making fresh lamb easily available from coast to coast.
The nascent co-operative has signed up 150 producers in all 10 provinces, which Smith said could easily double once it is federally approved and comes to life.
However, he warned interested producers to sign up now because federal rules restrict new members from joining once the co-op is approved.
Producers should sign up through the Canadian Lamb Producers Co-operative website.
The new co-op will be restricted to taking only 25 percent of a member’s lambs in its first year of operations, 50 percent the next year and 75 percent the third year. Only by the fourth year will it be allowed to market 100 percent of a member’s lambs, said Smith.
“The co-op will eventually become a major new marketing arm for the sheep industry in Canada,” he said.