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Lamb prices drop more than 50 percent

A sheep pauses while grazing in a yard in Waubay on Tuesday. (AP photo)

WASHINGTON -- South Dakota Sens. John Thune and Tim Johnson are among a bipartisan group of senators asking Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to investigate recent "unusually high differences" between the prices sheep producers are receiving and over-the-counter prices consumers are paying for lamb.

Johnson, a Democrat, and Thune, a Republican, signed the letter along with North Dakota Sens. Kent Conrad, a Democrat, and John Hoeven, a Republican; Montana Sens. Max Baucus and John Tester, both Democrats; and Wyoming Sen. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso, both Republicans.

The letter calls for the Grain, Inspection and Packers and Stockyards Administration to look into the situation.

The letter is prompted by a price drop of more than 50 percent in live lamb prices compared to last year, according to a statement from Thune, and also because a U.S. Department of Agriculture-run risk protection insurance program is not providing the price protection intended for insured sheep producers.

The letter also encourages Vilsack to explore export opportunities for meat and meat products outside traditional North American trade areas. Thune's request came after speaking with sheep producers and leaders in the sheep production industry and learning of the impacts as a result of price drops in the lamb market coupled with extreme drought conditions over the past year.