Friday, May 7, 2010

What the Alpaca Industry needs to do in the next 365 Days

I want to touch on the big picture in this post and then elaborate further in future posts on each of these subjects. Each subject is too large to be addressed in a single post.

End Product Development

For our industry to be viable and sustainable we must develop our end product. There are several projects that are very exciting such as the many niche markets selling fiber and the work the AFCNA is doing. This is a start but we must work together to do more. One concern I have is that we are working on too many individual projects but not enough focus is on a collaborative industry-wide approach, more on this is a future post. Use alpaca fiber at every opportunity to promote WHY we raise alpacas. Most people you will meet still have not worn alpaca; get them connected to our fiber in any way possible. There are many projects being developed put your fiber into production and do not let it waste away in the barn.

Breeder Education Tools

There are many areas where we can become better and more successful breeders. Developing assessment skills as a breeder and a record system to use this performance data is one that I think is very important. Up to now the show ring has been the primary assessment tool many breeders have relied on to evaluate their program and make breeding selections. While the show ring will always be important it cannot be the only tool used. Breeders must develop and use phenotypic assessment and performance records in their program. It is shearing time and this is the perfect time for breeders to assess the fleece they are producing. As part of the process I urge everyone to submit fiber samples under the ARI EPD program both provide histogram data and submit that data into ARI’s EPD program. Additionally enter your own information from shearing weight, birth weight and birthing ease directly into your ARI data. This is a free service and it does not take much time.

Youth Programs

Youth programs are the single most exciting programs we can be involved in. Take a moment and become a host farm or donating ranch through the AYA program, details and forms are located at You can make a difference in the future of our industry by training or donating an alpaca to a young breeder. There is no better promotion for our industry than supporting youth programs in the AYA, 4-H and FFA. 2010 marked the second year of an alpaca youth judging competition at the GWAS Denver show. I urge all shows to integrate youth training opportunities into the events of your show. These events are low cost and provide excellent opportunities to promote alpacas and the alpaca industry.

Expanded Promotion

We need to expand our promotion efforts beyond simply TV advertising. There are many methods of promoting alpacas and we need to use them all. The simple fact is TV advertising is very costly; there is no getting around this. While the industry has certainly benefited from TV marketing this must not be our only promotional effort. The good news is that many programs are very effective and come at a much lower cost. As mentioned above youth programs are an excellent means of promoting alpacas and they are very cost effective. Did you know 2010 will be the 3rd year AOBA has had a booth at the National FFA Convention? This event draws more than 50,000 of the nation’s future leaders in agriculture along with their advisors to a single event. We need to expand alpaca promotion at this event by making the AYA host farm and donation program available for advisors and students to use. For this to work we need breeders to sign up and participate. Another cost effective means of promotion is giveaways that promote alpacas and AOBA at the FFA convention. These giveaways go home with the students and advisors and serve to remind them to include alpacas in their existing livestock programs. I believe this is a very cost effective use of our marketing funds and has a more global benefit to all breeders. Let me know your thoughts on how this could be better accomplished.

AOBA has developed new IT solutions that will be released with the Membership Advertising Program, MAP (formerly the Farm and Ranch Guide). Use the solutions that provide the services you need and support the programs within your breed association. Remember every dollar spent outside of AOBA does not contribute to the programs AOBA offers its members.

What is the take away message? Get your fiber out of the barn and into yarn, it does no good sitting and waiting for something to happen. Make a point to expand your assessment skills and use performance records in your breeding program, check our website for upcoming classes and training Participate in ARI EPDs and let ARI know that we need the data along with an open and fully searchable database. Sign up to become an AYA host farm and donate an alpaca to a young breeder. Encourage the AOBA board to expand its promotional (marketing) efforts beyond TV advertising. Support participation in the FFA convention and use it as one of the premier promotional opportunities. In future posts I will take on these subjects in expanded detail. As always let me know your thoughts by commenting on this post.