Demand for wool sends prices soaring ; British wool prices have enjoyed a massive 34% rise this spring. This and strong sales throughout the current... [Western Mail (Wales)]
(Western Mail (Wales) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Demand for wool sends prices soaring ; British wool prices have enjoyed a massive 34% rise this spring. This and strong sales throughout the current selling season should bode well for Welsh sheep producers selling wool, reveals Sally Williams
WALES has enjoyed a record fleece clearance and a massive 34% hike in wool prices this spring, which is welcome news for farmers who were hit so badly fi-nancially and emotionally by the Arctic blast last spring.
Russell Morgan, who has been manager of the British Wool Marketing Board's (BWMB) Newtown depot in Mid Wales for 38 years, said: "I've never seen all our wool fleeces being cleared as early as this; in fact it is the best year for clearance that I can remember during the 40 years I have worked here.
"There has also been a massive 34% increase on British wool prices this year, compared to last year, which was a poor one because of all the severe sheep and lamb losses in the bad weather which led to a wool shortage nationally.
"This year's sales should provide a real bonus for our Welsh sheep farmers and hopefully prices will increase further over the coming year.
"We pay by the load of wool, not the weight, so that we can get as much as we can on our lorries.
"This saves us money and those savings are passed on to local farmers, which of course they like because their profits rise."
Mr Morgan explained that quite a few of the 6,500 to 7,000 farmers across Wales who use the depot, have held onto their fleeces this spring because May on the whole has been a wet and cool month.
"Some farmers go by dates but this May if they did that they could have been ringing off the wool instead of shearing it off because it has been too wet," he said.
"Recent night-time temperatures have only been 5 [degrees] or 6 [degrees]C, which is still cold and some sheep on high ground will still need their coats.
"As a result, we are currently dealing with 100 fleeces a day instead of the 600 we would normally expect in late May/early June."
Gareth Jones, BWMB producer communications manager, said: "There are two main reasons for the early wool clearance - supply and demand.
"Supply in 2013 was down by 10% which was a natural reduction due to the losses seen during the harsh weather conditions in March 2013 and the fleeces weighing a lot lighter.
"The demand over the last 12 months has been very strong, resulting with good clearances, hence no carryover of wool into the new selling season.
"We'd always aim to sell the wool in the selling season it was produced as was the case in 2013 and 2012.
"For the second year running, however, we have sold out of last year's clip. The 2014 clip could go up by as much as 10%.
"There is still a worldwide shortage of wool; Wales and Great Britain is a relatively small player producing just 2% of all the world's wool.
"The amount of wool produced in New Zealand and Australia has gone down too. And 30% of Welsh wool goes to China."
An average Welsh sheep farmer has a flock of 350 sheep and these are shorn annually.
The sheep are shorn by local farmers and an average fleece weighs 2.2 kg. Fleeces are then put into bags (sheets) on farm, weighing around 80 to 100 kg each and they are then collected by haulier and delivered, or taken personally, to the depot.
There are a total of 13 grading depots throughout the UK.
Fleeces are individually sorted (graded) into types.
Mr Morgan said the Newtown depot handles 200 tonnes of wool a week, on six grading tables, for weighing, grading and packing from collection centres including Bromyard, Dinas Mawddwy, Porthmadog and Ruthin.
The graders do this by subjective measurement using sight and touch.
And the fleeces are then packed and tested and stored in bales of approx 400 kg, to be sold at auctions held throughout the year at the BWMB Head Office in Bradford.
The BWMB is a farmers' organisation run on co-operative principles, to assist every producer to obtain the best price for his or her wool.
The wool is subject to scrutiny by the Wool Testing Authority in Carmarthen, West Wales. This facility independently tests all the wool from Wales and from across Europe.
The wool is spun into yarn to suit various manufacturing processes such as carpets and furnishing fabrics, bedding products or countrystyle knitwear.
Because of its exceptional bulk and resilience, British Wool is most frequently used for making carpets. While in the past the UK has welcomed gangs of skilled overseas shearers every summer, now the likelihood is that most shearers in Wales and the UK will be home-grown.
Shearing, a skill learned for life, is enjoying a revival among the younger generation of the farming community, according to BWMB shearing training manager Colin MacGregor.
He said: "For the last few years, more than 1,200 people a year have attended BWMB shearing courses across the UK, either to learn afresh or update and perfect their technique.
"We've seen a significant resurgence in young people wanting to learn to shear in recent years and this is being showcased by young British shearers enjoying success in shearing competitions the world over."
Mr MacGregor says that while New Zealand used to lead the world when it came to shearing there is no doubt that British shearers are now among the best around.
He said: "Competition shearing is the pinnacle of the industry.
"It provides a great opportunity for young shearers from Wales and the UK to meet shearers from across the world and again gives them great opportunities to learn from their experience.
"Shearing and socialising alongside some of the world's leading shearers exposes young UK shearers to the opportunities that exist worldwide. Shearing is a truly universal skill and once you learn it you never forget.
"You can go pretty much anywhere in the world and get a job if you can shear."
Last month, Wales successfully defended their Six Nations machine shearing title at the Balmoral Show in Northern Ireland.
The world championships pairing of Gareth Daniel and Richard Jones, joined by Ian Jones, figured in an exciting match-race, with regular rivals Scotland in front of about 800 people.
Finishing in 14 minutes 53 seconds, the Welsh beat Scots shearers Gavin Mutch, Hamish Mitchell and Calum Shaw by just five seconds.
While world champion Mutch claimed individual honours after time and quality points were collated, the Welsh commanded the next three individual placings and won with a comfortable 7.85pts margin.
Wales won the event when it was first held in 1963 and has now won 13 times, including three times in the past four years.
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