Demand for wool is set to grow significantly over the coming years, according to recently appointed Chairman of Ulster Wool and Northern Ireland’s new regional Wool Board representative Brendan Kelly.
“Driving all of this is the fact that wool is a totally natural product,” he said. “It has numerous uses within the fashion, textiles and home furnishings’ sectors.
“We have sat back for the past twenty years and let others steal our thunder, up to a point. However, I am very encouraged at the commitment recently confirmed by the Wool Board to push ahead with a number of initiatives that will highlight the true value of wool.”
There are approximately 2m kilos of wool produced in Northern Ireland annually. Of this figure, the Wool Board auctions 60 per cent on behalf of sheep farmers.
Mr Kelly continued: “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 added: “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. And 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.
Mr Kelly is from Randalstown. He is involved in a farming partnership, which runs 950 breeding ewes and 90 suckler cows.
He continued: “I’m delighted to be appointed as Chairman of Ulster Wool, and am very much looking forward to supporting our local farming community; building on the competitive edge created during the chairmanship of Ian Buchanan over the past 3 years.
“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.”
As part of a programme of continuous improvement, and strengthening the services provided, Ulster Wool is planning to trial an intermediate collection centre in the west of Ulster, enabling producers to deliver their wool to one central point with free onward transport.
Ulster Wool is also launching a scheme for new entrants to the industry, which will provide financial and other support to the next generation of sheep farmers.