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Wednesday 15 August 2018

Worthless wool: 'Prices are so low they no longer cover the cost of shearing the sheep'

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

Ciaran Moran

Despite the sunshine heralding the start of the sheep shearing season farmer frustration is growing with dismal returns on the sale of wool.

The sale of wool accounted for the major proportion of the sheep output in the past. Indeed in the Middle Ages sheep were valued exclusively for their wool.

The industry which was booming in Ireland back in the 1600s went into a slow decline over the generations and all the once-thriving mills in every town became disused.

Man-made fibres have resulted in poor demand and low prices for wool.

Denis O'Sullivan taking part in the Sheep Shearing and woll handling Championships at the 2011 Sheep and Wool festival in Cillin Hill Kilkenny over the weekend. Picture Dylan Vaughan.
Denis O'Sullivan taking part in the Sheep Shearing and woll handling Championships at the 2011 Sheep and Wool festival in Cillin Hill Kilkenny over the weekend. Picture Dylan Vaughan.

Sheep farmer John Brooks has says wool prices are so depressed that they no longer cover the cost of shearing.

“It just amounts to yet another cost that sheep farmers have to absorb.

“The fine weather has arrived and we are in the middle of the shearing season. However, with wool currently worthless, farmers will be facing a loss financially at the end of shearing season.

“Long term we may even face a welfare issue if the poor price trend for wool is not reversed.”

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Mr Brooks who is also Sheep Chairman for the Irish Cattle and Sheep Association believes the time has come to address the current apathy towards wool in this country and right around Europe.

He says the demise of the indigenous wool industry has resulted in wool remaining both underused and undervalued.

“Wool is an important natural resource yet the wool industry has been completely cast aside. However, there is huge potential to capitalise on a revitalised wool industry and this needs to be given serious consideration.”

“We need to see a concerted effort made to breathe life back into the industry. At a time when low carbon, low waste, biodegradability and renewability are the factors by which products and processes are judged, wool scores high on all.

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

“Efforts will have to focus on increasing awareness of this and remarketing wool as green and efficient commodity which is a viable alternative to fossil fuel based synthetic fibres.

“As sheep have to be shorn every year, wool is not only an important natural resource but also an abundant and renewable resource.

Unfortunately, the competition from cheaper synthetic fibres means we constantly have to battle for a fair fleece price.”

Mr Brooks said while while wool products may be more expensive, there are emerging concerns around the high environmental and human rights costs associated with producing cheap synthetic clothing, most of which are made in developing countries.

Farmer Derick Beattie, Coolroe, Tinahely, Co Wicklow as one lively ewe makes her way back to the flock after a good shearing. Photo: Roger Jones.
Farmer Derick Beattie, Coolroe, Tinahely, Co Wicklow as one lively ewe makes her way back to the flock after a good shearing. Photo: Roger Jones.

“So, while wool may seem comparatively dear, if all the true costs of producing synthetic fibres were taken into account, it might not seem that expensive.

“The uses for wool are many and varied and certainly not limited to just clothing. Bedding, furniture, soft furnishings, carpets and even fertiliser can all be produced from wool.

“It is also an excellent means of insulation and can insulate the home providing and retaining warmth, all while reducing energy costs. Yet, wool processing in Ireland is done only on a very small and niche scale.”

“We cannot afford to ignore an opportunity like this when such a valuable natural resource is available to us in vast quantities.

“Utilising our renewable natural resources must be made a priority and wool needs to feature strongly in that category going forward.

“Consumer momentum is certainly moving in that direction and I would like to see the Irish government take a lead on this issue and also to push for a revitalisation of the industry at a European level.”

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