DENVER — North Carolina sheep producer Bill Sparrow Jr. attended what was billed as the “First American Sheep Industry Convention” in San Antonio, Texas, in 1988. It was nearly his last sheep convention.
“I got home on Jan. 24 and on the 25th our middle child was born. Had the timing of that been a little different, you might have never seen me again,” he joked in accepting the American Sheep Industry Association’s Distinguished Producer Award last week in Scottsdale, Ariz., during the ASI Annual Convention.
While the National Wool Growers Association – the predecessor to ASI – has held conventions dating back to 1865, the 1988 convention marked the first that brought together NWGA and its auxiliary along with the American Sheep Producers Council and the National Lamb Feeders Association. NWGA and ASPC would later merge to form ASI.
“When Benny (Cox, ASI President) called a couple of days before Christmas to tell us about the award, we were truly shocked,” Sparrow said. “Over the years of my association with this organization, I have met people from nearly every state in the nation. It’s been a pleasure to be involved with the sheep industry, and I look forward to being a part of this organization for many years to come.”
Sparrow was joined on the winner’s stage by: Frank Moore of Wyoming, McClure Silver Ram Award winner; Reed Anderson of Oregon, Industry Innovation Award winner; Mike Caskey of Minnesota, Camptender Award winner; Lane Nordlund of Montana, Shepherd’s Voice Broadcasting Award winner; and Susan Crowell of Ohio, Shepherd’s Voice Print Award winner.
ASI Secretary/Treasurer Brad Boner introduced Moore, as the two Wyoming producers have worked together extensively with the Mountain States Lamb Cooperative.
“He’s been a beacon on dark days,” Boner said. “When we were reeling from the loss of the Wool Act incentive, he was an important voice in helping us rise from the ashes.”
Moore was one of several winners who mentioned the awards should be presented to husband-and-wife teams, since the wives are the ones left to deal with the farm or ranch when their husbands are away attending sheep conventions.
“It’s been an honor. I’m not going to say a lot, but know that this is appreciated,” Moore said. “It’s been an honor and a pleasure to serve the sheep industry.”
Anderson is the largest sheep producer, lamb processor and sheep industry supporter in Brownsville, Ore., according to NLFA Past President Bob Harlan, but his impact goes way beyond that small Oregon town.
When his family ran into problems getting lambs processed, Anderson took the bold step of building his own facility, and now supplies Oregon grass-fed lamb to restaurants and grocery stores throughout the Pacific Northwest. For his efforts, he was honored with just the third Industry Innovator Award presented by ASI.
“I’m really just a plagiarizer, not an innovator. My family are the ones who really do all the work,” said the humble Anderson, who went on to add, “All of the people in this room had something to do with our success. Thank you.”
Caskey spent more than 40 years educating sheep producers through the Pipestone Lamb and Wool Program in southwest Minnesota. And despite the role he played in their successes, Caskey was quick to credit the program’s producers.
“They were the ones who embraced new technology and new ideas 40 years ago,” he said. “Those producers are the ones I really need to thank. As a group, they’ve been so willing to share what they’ve learned.
As Cox said in introducing him, Lane Nordlund seems to be everywhere while “carrying our message, which he does so well.”
The Northern Ag Network reporter said the ASI Annual Convention is his favorite among the stops he makes each year covering agriculture and livestock not only in Montana but across the nation.
“That’s because of the friendships I’ve made here,” he said. “I’m honored to be recognized for mine and Russell’s (Nemetz) work on television.”
Susan Crowell retired last year as editor of Farm and Dairy, an Ohio-based ag newspaper, but her commitment to the industry lives on. In her acceptance speech, she urged producers to “Be bold.”
“Now’s not the time to be timid,” she said.
In addition to these awards, the Wool Roundtable chose Aggie and Joe Helle as winners of the 2020 Wool Excellence Award. The Montana couple worked diligently to develop their own fine wool flock while also looking for ways to serve the industry.
Joe, who passed away in October 2019, served as a past chair of the ASI Wool Council and as a past president of the Montana Wool Growers Association. Aggie was heavily involved in the Montana Make It With Wool program and went on to serve two years as coordinator of the national contest. It was her family that brought Joe into the fine wool industry.
“Joe would have been so honored to be here and receive this award. On his behalf, I say thank you to all the sheep producers and those we have worked with. It’s been a wonderful time serving the sheep industry and putting together some of the finest wool in the country,” Aggie said. “We go back a couple of generations with the fine wool sheep, and our family has been so supportive. They are carrying it forward now with the Duckworth brand and working with other producers to get them involved, as well.”