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Boosting British wool
Feature: 3/1/2002



The British Wool Marketing Board has now resumed its re-structuring and development programme designed to improve efficiencies and improve returns to producers through research and investment (director-e News, Friday 11 January)

The need for such a programme, interrupted as a consequence of foot and mouth disease, is now more urgent following the outbreak, according to Wool Board chairman Frank Langrish.

Speaking in Scotland, Mr Langrish said the British Wool clip would probably finalise around 35 million kg, 20 percent less than last year. Although this should increase again over the next few years, it was unlikely to reach the 45.6 million kg handled in 1999/2000.

As a result, staff changes and redundancies have been made both at Head Office and at grading depots in the North of England. A review of the grading depot operation elsewhere in the UK is now going on and, Mr Langrish said, it was the intention to make savings of over £500,000 in wages by the start of next season.

A reduced supply would normally cause prices to rise and the long-term indicators of world supply and demand suggest a sustained rise in price. However, the market for British Wool has remained fairly static, with the indicator around 68p/kg since the start of the selling season in late June.

Severe impact

Initially, manufacturers' confidence in the continued supply of some types was shaken by foot and mouth disease when depots had to be shut and some export markets were closed off. Since then, international economic uncertainty following the events of 11 September has had a severe impact on activity. It is noted that New Zealand prices for comparative wools have dropped 15 percent (19 percent sterling equivalent).

To benefit from any overall market upturn, Mr Langrish said the Wool Board believed it must ensure the clip is of a consistently high quality, meets international specifications and is supported by all relevant technical information.

Consequently, the programme of introducing electronic auctioning, postponed during the summer, will now be re-started, with a view to providing a fully integrated selling system. Mechanisation and the increased use of technology in the grading operation are also being considered.

There will be a requirement to control the level of pesticide residue within the clip and to achieve this there will need to be improved traceability. With increasingly stringent water quality and disposal regulations in the UK and the rest of Europe, this is becoming essential and Wool Board research is investigating both ways of reducing the initial level of pesticide applied, perhaps through high-speed jetters. A commercially acceptable procedure for testing sale lots for residue content is also being developed.

Scottish project

The Scottish shearing project, originally launched last February but postponed through foot and mouth disease, is now re-launched. Initiated by the Wool Board and supported through match funding from the European Social Fund, the project will run until 2004, and give sheep farmers throughout Scotland, except for the Highlands and Islands, access to professional shearing courses at all levels.

Crutching and gear courses have been arranged to run through the winter months, with a full programme of 2-day courses starting in the spring through until the early summer. Sheep farmers wishing to learn to shear or improve their skills, should contact the Shearing Office in Callender.

Scottish wool was also featured in a recent successful Wool Board promotion in Japan where, in the past year the focus has been directed towards marketing a quality fibre into a niche market.

Wool from the Bowmont sheep (a Merino/Shetland cross), developed over the last 15 years for its fine quality fleece by the Macaulay Institute, has been woven into suiting fabric and tailored by leading Japanese manufacturers into garments with considerable cachet. It is likely that this will lead to other niche market promotions during the year.

Mr Langrish said he believed a viable sheep industry would emerge from the foot and mouth disaster. "This will be an industry that will need to make the best use of its resources, and the Wool Board, run by producers for the benefit of producers, will be an integral part of this", he said.
Author: John Gibbon
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