What should we do with this year’s wool crop? Pay to get rid of it? Tip it on the muck heap? Burn it? Or, should we just chance that it may be worth something next year and store it?
This, unfortunately, is the sad predicament that most people in the sector find themselves in.
It’s hard to believe that wool was once such a sought-after product that it was the cornerstone of the British economy.
Its historical importance to the nation is still evident today – signified, for example, by the fact that the speaker in the House of Lords sits on a wool sack to this very day.
My grandfather once told me that when he was a young man, the annual wool cheque paid the rent on many farms.
This has been far from the case throughout my farming life. We think we are having a good year if the wool cheque manages to cover the cost of shearing.
It’s hugely frustrating that in an era where “sustainable” and “renewable” have become two of the buzzwords, we, as a society, are not using wool more widely.
Its virtues as a product are endless. It’s eco-friendly, air-purifying, anti-static and even flame retardant. So why, with all of these benefits, is there supposedly no longer a market for this incredibly durable fibre?
It would appear that the Covid-19 crisis has even found a way to affect this market. A large proportion of British wool is usually exported to China and, with them closing their borders overnight, it was inevitable that these effects would soon be felt.
Many people will blame the British Wool Board for not doing enough to find new markets, but they are a co-operative owned by us, the farmers, so the jury remains out on whether or not they should be bearing the brunt of the blame.
Shouldn’t there be more of a focus on developing domestic markets? After all, it is something we produce here in an abundance.
Only a few short weeks ago, Boris and his government announced that they would “build, build, build” to try to help repair the economy after the effects of coronarvirus.
Could this approach potentially offer an opportunity for the surplus of wool here to be used as insulation? It might not be the high-end premium market that wool deserves, but at least it would be a market.
For what was once such an integral part of our nation’s society, wool’s fall from grace has been significant – but let’s hope that there is an opportunity for a mini revival.