Saturday, May 02, 2009

Right....I promised to tell you why sheeps wool insulation, knitting wool, woollen jumpers etc are SO expensive....here goes!

There are about 24 million sheep in this country (UK) and they all produce wool....even the very primitive native breeds of unimproved sheep such as Soays produce wool!

Many breeds of sheep esp the primitive types (that means unimproved) will actually shed their wool if not sheared....it will fall out in clumps leading to a very motheaten appearance!
Man caused sheep to produce lots of wool by selective breeding for all sorts of types....eg Herdwicks and Dartmoors for carpets, Devon Closewool and Southdown for hosierey (knickers and socks etc!!) and Wensleydales for worsted cloth (from which mens suits were made).........in Britain we have the most diverse breeds.
Meat was a by product of the woollen industry and only latterly wool became the by product of meat as man made fibres took its place!
In 1947 the Agriculture Act came into being setting up 'boards' to guarentee prices for producers and make sure Britain never went short again if we had a war....there was a Milk marketing board, a potato board .....and the British Wool Marketing Board (BWMB) among others.
Wool was very very important as nylon was in its infancy and acrylic had not yet appeared.
Every sheep keeper with more than 4 sheep had to register with the 'board' and good money was paid for wool.....approx average 54p per kg in 1954.....and that was a lot, the wool cheque often paid the rent on a farm!
Today in 2009 wool prices have just gone up.....to an average of 54p per kg ....but somehow I don't think 54p is worth the same....do you!
Now to get this average there is a lot that is cheaper than that.....some poor quality coloured wool will fetch 5p or less per kg.....
..........Now shearing costs about £1 per sheep and the average sheep has approx 3 kgs.....do your own maths!.............the amount paid for the wool hardly covers the cost of shearing and often dosent get anywhere near covering it!

So we know the wool is pretty worthless and a lot is poor quality....so why are jumpers and insulation SO expensive?
Well.....once the wool has been delivered by the farmer to the depot (more costs as there are only 2 for the whole of the SW of England!) it it graded and baled (compressed into big rectangles)......
And then it is sold on the wool stockmarket!!! This electronic trading is where registered wool buyers buy on the basis of the report on the wool supplied by the wood graders....The wool has not moved from the depot but its been sold! The wool buyer will then sell to the wool processor, someone like me....
So The farmer may get 5p per kg for the wool he sent to the depot, where it was sold to a wool buyer for maybe 30p per kg who in turn sells it to me for 45p per kg.....the wool has still not moved but everyone takes their cut.....and I in turn have to pay for scouring, carding and felting.
Now sall scale scouring, carding and felting....no problem...I have all the kit....but for the meat box and house insulation I must have 2-3 tonnes scoured at a time so I have it scoured commercially......You can notice the pennies adding up here if you are mathematically inclined!....Scouring costs are around 50p per kg.....and about 40% of the original weight of the wool is lost down the drain in dirt and grease.....feels expensive!
So you can see that whilst the farmer may have got 5p per kg by the time I have the washed dried wool in my hands its cost me about £1.60 per kg!!!!
You have to sit down to actually digest how something that was worthless suddenly gets so expensive, but this is how ALL wool is processed whether its for spinning, felting or whatever....and this is just to get it to the point where it can be processed further.

Many people say th me they cannot understand why woolly goods ranging from jumpers to insulation are SOOOOO expensive, well here lies the answer!

People really do not like having to pay the real true prices for their goods and baulk at the price of meat box insulation such as the product that we make as it is more expensive than polystyrene! For example a large recycled cardboard box and 2 liners will cost the person who sells them a bit more than a polystyrene box.....so they may decide not to buy....
Sheeps wool insulation costs more than rockwool or recycled plastic insulation....so they choose rockwool!
I would however like to cut my processing costs a little, buy my wool direct from the farmer, via the baling facility at the BWMB depot, giving the farmer say 15p per kg.....cutting out the wool buyer, more than doubling the price the farmer is getting for his poor quality wool, nearly halving the price I am paying for it AND paying the BWMB for storing at the depot and baling it.....so I pay the farmer 15p per kg, pay the BWMB 5p per kg to bale it and then 5p per kg transport it in bulk to the processing facility....In effect cut the middle men who never see the wool yet trade it!
15p to the farmer still sounds terrible andit is.....I would prefer to pay the real worth....BUT
Whilst the consumer is unaware of this chain and how much it costs to process the wool in to a useable product they will not pay for it....catch 22!

So I appeal to readers of this blog.....find out about wool and if necessary pay the proper price!

2 comments:

Fr. Peter Doodes said...

Thanks for this info.

It is only via those involved, people like you, that the full facts about environmental situations can be known.

Stuart and Gabrielle said...

Well done, Val. From previous conversations, I was under the impression that it was impossible to short cut the WMB but you seem to have done it with their blessing. I hope other producers of wool products take your lead. An elegant solution that leaves the farmer, the manufacturer and even the WMB better off at the single expense of the middle-men buyers.