More stock and better marketing are key
INCREASING the number of quality breeding stock and developing the manufacturing and marketing of fibre are the UK alpaca industrys main priorities.
Although there is a niche for alpaca fibre products, especially in high fashion, there is an under-supply of superior stock, which limits the extent to which the textile industry will invest in the market.
Nick Harrington-Smith says: "At present the industry does not offer returns on fibre that equate to the value of the breeding stock, because the alpacas are in short supply."
With only 180 registered herds in the UK, totalling 3000-4000 alpacas, the initial breeding up phase will take many years.
"A managed breeding programme is the way forward for the business to produce fibre of superior quality." He believes a national herd of 80,000-100,000 alpacas is needed to ensure that the market for processing on a commercial scale is supplied.
At the same time the industry must promote the attributes of alpaca fibre and develop the manufacture of end products. Alpaca fibre is durable, thermal, contains no lanolin and can be worn by people allergic to lambswool, he says.
Arunvale Stud is at the forefront of the breeding up initiative with 35 stud animals and about 250 breeding females on its 61ha (150-acre) unit, most from imported top quality Peruvian genetics.
"Primarily we are a stud farm producing breeding stock for sale to the UK industry, but we also provide stud and livery services for smaller producers," he says.
This year about 125 alpacas have been sold off farm to small producers, who are the backbone of the industry. All females are sold pregnant so clients definitely have breeding animals.
To ensure that the national herd will comprise of quality animals, the British Alpaca Society has a pedigree register. This lists any imported or home-bred animal that has been screened for fibre quality and genetic defects.
"The whole industry has to concentrate on the next generation to breed quality animals and fibre," insists Mr Harrington-Smith.
Besides ensuring only high quality stock is produced, the British Alpaca Fibre Co-operative is another initiative which aims to safeguard the industrys future.
"Its principal objective is to establish a meaningful trading arm, guaranteeing that added value, gained through processing and manufacturing, is passed back to producers, something other sectors of agriculture have not been able to achieve."
This year 4-5t of fibre were produced by 130 members. This is collected by the co-op, which takes it through the textile process and markets the end product.
Members also fund research and development into new products and markets, which can be supplied once alpaca numbers have risen.
The alpaca industry is in its infancy but quality controls and market analysis should ensure a solid future, believes Mr Harrington-Smith. *
Nick Harrington-Smith and Sara Morrow showing off the delicate and duarble products made of alpaca fibre.