Direct wool buyers pay more than rock-bottom prices

Direct buyer wool merchants account for a growing portion of the clip and offer premiums for wool for some increasingly common uses.

Alan Walsh, managing director of Perth-based buyer Brannach Olann, estimates that 3.5-4.5m kilograms of UK wool is bought privately for a huge range of products, from bedding to performance sportwear.

Manufacturers that buy this in turn are increasingly interested in provenance, traceability and the environmental credentials of wool, he said.

Brannach Olann was established last year and buys 1.8-2m kilograms of wool a year, with 400t of this going into the bedding market from a wide range of grades of wool.

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While a price of 15p/kg was quoted for one direct buyer in last week’s Farmers Weekly (Business, 17 July), Mr Walsh says others are paying 40p/kg and his own company up to 85p/kg for this season’s wool.

“There are different types that go into the bedding market. Prices are 20p/kg, 60p and 65p, all with a 20p premium from the end users, so the farmers receive 40p, 80p and 85p/kg,” said Mr Walsh.

Alongside wool merchant H Dawson and some of their customers, his company is involved in the recently launched Woolkeepers scheme to promote assurance standards in farming and textiles.

As well as creating a link between wool producers and consumers, it offers traceability and aims to raises the profile of British wool through transparency and by rewarding farmers who switch to regenerative agricultural practices.

“We have brought traceability from the farmgate and are shortening the supply chain to stop too many people taking a cut from the product,” said Mr Walsh.

Markets are also being developed abroad, especially for sportswear and high-performance clothing where wool’s insulation properties are already highly valued.

Mr Walsh said there is also great potential to rapidly replace the use of New Zealand wool in mattresses and other products, as more manufacturers try home-produced wool and then switch to it.

The national clip for auction by British Wool totalled 27m kilograms in 2018 and almost 29m kilograms in 2017.