Demand for wool is set to grow significantly over the coming years, according to the chairman of Ulster Wool and Northern Ireland’s regional British Wool representative Brendan Kelly.
British Wool, formerly the British Wool Marketing Board, is a farmer-owned co-operative, which operates a wholly transparent auction system on behalf of its members throughout the United Kingdom. The organisation, which has its headquarters in Bradford, also pump-primes a lot of highly relevant research and development, where adding value to wool is concerned.
British Wool is the last marketing organisation of its type left in the UK. “Driving all of this good news for wool is the fact that it is a totally natural product,” says Kelly. “The fibre has numerous uses within the fashion, textiles and home furnishings’ sectors.
“We have sat back for the past 20 years and let others steal our thunder, up to a point. However, I am very encouraged at the commitment recently confirmed by British Wool to push ahead with a number of initiatives that will highlight the true value of wool.”
There are approximately two million kilos of wool produced in Northern Ireland annually. Of this figure, British Wool auctions 60 per cent of this total output on behalf of local sheep farmers.
Kelly explains: “There are buyers based in the Republic of Ireland who will give farmers a take-it or leave-it price for their wool. It’s worth noting that these same buyers pay a smaller price for wool on their home market. This is because they have no competitors to deal with.
“For its part, the Board collects the wool supplied to it, grades it and then auctions it in a way that helps secure the best possible price for the farmer.”
He adds: “I know that many view wool simply as a by-product of the sheep industry. But that wasn’t always the case. In the years following the Second World War wool fleeces were worth almost three times what they are valued at today. This is the target for farmers which the Board has set moving forward.”
Ulster Wool, based in Antrim, is a joint venture between British Wool and Ulster Wool Growers, an Ulster Farmer’s Cooperative. It collects, grades, sells and promotes Ulster wool to the international wool textile industry for use in flooring, furnishings and apparel.
Kelly continues: “I am very much looking forward to supporting our local farming community; building on the competitive edge created during the chairmanship of my predecessor Ian Buchanan.
“I will continue to focus on maximising the return to local wool producers, ensuring we provide excellent service, and using Ulster Wool’s expertise to help inspire the next generation of young farmers and shearers.”