28 July 1995


It is fitting that the fourth World Sheep and Wool Congress is being hosted in the UK in 1995 – a booming and exciting time for British Wool.

Liz Ambler, from the British Wool Marketing

Board (BWMB), sets the scene

DEMAND in the world wool market is good and exports strong as more manufacturers than ever use British Wool in a wide variety of quality products.

The wool cheque is once again an acceptable supplementary income for producers, and the BWMB has had one of its most successful years with costs down to the lowest level ever.

The benefits of the centrally- operated marketing system run by the board is attracting considerable interest from other European countries keen to set up similar operations.

Producers are seeing a welcome and encouraging return to sensible pricing after the depressing days of 1992 when the average auction price dropped as low as 58p/kg. This season the BWMB is paying an average 120p/kg, the highest price most producers remember and certainly the most paid in the BWMBs 45-year history.

Clearances at auction have been good, with over 47m kilos sold – the 1994 clip production figure. Only a planned amount was carried forward into the start of the 1995/96 selling year in order to supply wools, including Blackface types, which are normally unavailable until later in the season.

The upturn in demand is reflected in all major wool markets and, apart from expected seasonal fluctuations and the occasional check on prices, should be maintained.

Steady price rise

While future increases may not be as dramatic as those of the past two years, prices should continue to rise steadily. On the whole, producers are paid a market price within seven days of their wool being delivered to the depot. The minority of producers who decided to accept a spot payment and sell privately for export last year lost up to 50% of the amount they would have received from the board.

In Britain there are over 70 purebred and halfbred types – the highest number in any country – and an increasing number of cross-breeds. Last year the main production types were crosses (24%), halfbred (18%), Blackface (11%) and Radnor (10%). Of these, the bulk fall within the 33-40 micron range, which is suitable for carpets. The growing popularity of Continental crosses has resulted in a slightly finer clip which allows for greater versatility in end use.

Wool from the British Isles is renowned for its resilience and durability. It has a higher degree of crimp for a given micron than wools from other parts of the world, and a relatively thick diameter which produces an exceptionally springy handle. This gives yarn and fabric bulk without excessive weight, and produces carpets which are hard working and maintain their appearance.

Now that prices are up again, competition is tough. Manufact-urers of synthetics are constantly improving their products to try to take wools market share.

So quality is vital if buyers are to have continued confidence in British wool and pay high prices for it. The BWMB is renewing its efforts to draw producers attention to the need for clean, white wool.

Some clips are excellent, but there is room for improvement. "Bin the String", a new video produced by the BWMB, is currently being shown at agricultural shows to remind producers of the problem of polypropylene string and ways to avoid contamination.

General advice is to make sure wool leaves the farm in the best possible condition: clean, well wrapped and packed properly. Wool will be automatically downgraded if fleeces are badly presented or contaminated by twine, vegetable matter or excessive use of markers.

It has been said many times before, and must be repeated, only recommended sprays and fluids are advised and they should be applied sparingly. Even if you know it is a scourable mark, a large patch of blue or red wool will not inspire any buyer with confidence.

The shearers role in wool presentation is vital and the shortage of experienced, skilled shearers in some areas of Britain is a problem. The BWMB has been preparing a comprehensive resource guide on the location and availability of shearing training.

This includes listings of BWMB-qualified shearing instructors, agricultural colleges with contact names, ATB Landbase training providers and county NPTC secretaries. This is the first time all this information has been catalogued centrally and it is hoped good use will be made of the guide. It is available free of charge from the wool board.

Product brochure

The pivot of the BWMBs promotional activity this year is a British wool product brochure published within a number of quality womens magazines in the autumn. Supported by manufacturers, 32 pages will be devoted to British wool carpet ranges and stockists.

Window display material, featuring Scottish producer Alistair Skene – a regional winner in last years CIBA competition – will be available for retailers to complement the brochure and, hopefully, draw customers.

More bedding manufacturers are using British Wool, while fashion interest for the autumn and winter will be in fancy yarns in both fabrics and knitwear. With colours likely to reflect the shades of the countryside, there are excellent opportunities ahead for the BWMBs promotional theme: "British Wool… naturally."

Facts on fleeces

&#8226 Britain is the largest wool producer in Europe and accounts for about 3% of the worlds wool production.

&#8226 Market share has fallen steadily since the peak of 53m kilos in 1990/91 due to changes in the structure of sheep farming. It is unlikely to drop much more in view of the present quota system, so should settle around the current 47m kilo mark.

&#8226 Mountain and hill areas which provide hard grazing and little protection from the weather produce the coarsest fibre. The longer-stapled Blackface is superb for mattresses and Italy has long been a customer for these wools.

&#8226 Blackface grades, Welsh Mountain, Swaledales, Lonks, Gritstones and other typical hill breeds are prized for carpet blends in the UK and overseas.

&#8226 The dense white fleece of Dorset Horns and Romneys is used in futon manufacture – the Japanese equivalent of the duvet.

&#8226 The short, fine-stapled wool of the Suffolk, Cheviot and Clun is used for hand and machine-knitting yarns, while the lustrous smooth handle and appearance of the Bluefaced Leicester, Teeswater and Masham make them among the most prized in the clip for speciality yarns.

&#8226 Naturally pigmented wools from breeds such as the Jacob, Black Welsh and Shetland are unique to Britain and have enjoyed considerable popularity recently thanks to consumer demand for "ecological friendliness" in fashion. Breed histories, set against the background of the British countryside, provide the BWMB with excellent marketing stories for retail promotion in the UK and overseas.

The shearers role in wool presentation is vital. But make sure wool leaves the farm clean, well wrapped and packed properly.