Farm Ireland

Tuesday 11 December 2018

Solutions sought for Ireland's "worthless" wool

Bernard King with his sheepdogs. Picture: FoKiss Photography.
Bernard King with his sheepdogs. Picture: FoKiss Photography.

Eoghan MacConnell

With Irish wool considered “worthless” at the moment, Agriculture Minister Michael Creed said he was open to looking at suggestions on the future of the product. 

He was responding to a question from ICSA Sheep Committee chairman John Brooks at the association’s AGM in Abbeyleix, Co Laois on Thursday. 

“The situation at the moment is that wool is worthless and it will become a welfare issue on farms in the near future,” explained Mr Brooks. He said synthetic materials had seen wool go out of fashion 50 years ago.

“In the intervening years it has been dumped into China and now we are suffering the vagaries of the Chinese market for wool,” he explained.  

Mr Brooks said “wool is natural, it is carbon friendly, it is renewable. There’s no animals killed or slaughtered. It’s a beautiful product, it is a marketers dream.” Over the past year the ICSA has carried out work in relation to the wool market.

Mr Brooks said  “we would ask you would you be prepared to put a forum together to look at this very valuable product that is currently being dumped.” 

Sheep shearing co-ordinator George Graham watches on as Leo Varadkar shears under supervision from sheep shearing world record holder Ivan Scott
Sheep shearing co-ordinator George Graham watches on as Leo Varadkar shears under supervision from sheep shearing world record holder Ivan Scott

Minister Creed said it was co-incidental that a woman whose business involved wool had contacted him in recent times.  He explained that it was a global phenomenon when wool went out of fashion and said he is open to exploring options for the future of wool. 

“Maybe there is merit in collectively sitting around and seeing what we could do, the business opportunities, I am open to that,” he told  Mr Brooks. 

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He asked the ICSA to send him a copy of the work they had carried out in relation to wool.

Farmers have been left at a loss with shearing last season, with wool prices failing to cover the €2-3 average ewe shearing cost.

Irish wool buyers have reported a sharp drop in interest in the Chinese marketplace, with some Asian buyers reneging on contracts to buy Irish produce.

Aidan Walsh, from Texacloth, reported prices have taken their sharpest dip in around a decade with 60c/kg the going price, down from €1.20/kg this time last year.

"The biggest reason being the Chinese are pretty much totally out of the market for the Irish-bred half type of wool," he said. "The Chinese haven't taken up all their contracts from last season - they've reneged. A lot of them have gone to the wall as well. A lot of the textile people in China were gamblers - if they wanted 100t, they'd buy 1,000t as they'd reckon that it would go up."

The Kildare-based buyer said China was now opting for merino type wool from Australia for lighter fabrics and more acrylics.

"That is all fashion. Someone in time will look at Irish, English and New Zealand wool and say it is so cheap, they'll buy it again," he said. "We are happy to buy wool. I've been around the block before many times when wood prices crash, after all, it is a commodity."

He said it was disappointing when you thought you had a long-term buyer but they had found a new customer in India and some on the Continent.

Kevin Dooley from Dooley Wool in Roscrea, Co Tipperary said Chinese buyers had backed out of paying for wool pre-ordered from October onwards. "At the moment, the only hope we have is to store it or send it in for washing in the UK," he said. "Last year, you'd just about cover the shearing, and this year it is not covering it."

Mr Dooley also found the carpet trade was still taking a certain amount of the wool.

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