Sheep producers find themselves in mire of tariffs, pandemic
PULASKI, Va. — Sheep shearing season is in full swing across the nation but farmers are wondering how and when they will be able to sell their wool. They are caught in the mire of tariffs and COVID-19 that is causing buyers to wait to buy wool, a Virginia industry leader said.
The current tariff being levied against China, the chief customer for U.S. wool, is the key factor in the lack of a market for the nation’s wool, said Cecil King, president of the New River Valley Sheep and Goat Club.
China has been buying 80 percent of U.S. wool in recent years, King added. This year the country is not bidding on wool.
“We expect that at some point they will need our wool, even with the tariffs,” he said.
The Chinese stance has caused buyers to postpone buying wool, he continued.
“Various companies want to wait, to hold off until mid-summer,” King said.
This change appears to be making it necessary for wool producers to change some of the ways they have done things in the past.
Virginia Cooperative Extension and North Carolina Extension advisors to the industry recently notified producers that take-up dates for southwestern Virginia and western North Carolina wool have been postponed.
“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, wool marketing bids have been put on hold,” they wrote in a joint letter to producers.
They promised to re-evaluate the situation and let producers know what to expect by June 1.
He said last year, the NRV Wool Pool and six other wool pools in the region purchased a wool baler for use by their members.
This enabled the farmers to bale their wool rather than sell it in the traditional burlap bags and resulted in them getting from three to four times the price they had received in previous years, he said.
It gives them the option of baling wool again this year but King said that wool may have to be stored for as much as a year before it can be baled.
“Proper harvesting, packaging, and storage of the wool is important to realize the full value of the wool clip,” the Extension letter advised. “Since wool sales represent a very small portion of the gross returns for most sheep enterprises, wholesale changes to the genetics of the flock to improve fiber diameter and fleece weight are likely not justified for most Mid-Atlantic producers. However, there are several important steps that should be considered to maximize the value of the wool clip.”
First, minimize contamination, it continued.
“Keep shearing area clean and free of straw/hay and other potential sources of contamination,” is another suggestion to do this. “Avoid use of plastic baler twine in sheep operation that may contaminate fleeces (this contamination occurs throughout the year, not just at shearing time,)”
The proper packing material is something else producers need to know about. Extension stressed that plastic feed sacks must not be used to store or package wool.
It advises using plastic film bags that are available and preferred.
They also offer guidelines for shearing and sorting.
King said there are efforts underway to find new or alternative uses of wool which is considered a green product in that it is natural, biodegradable, sustainable and renewable.
One example King mentioned is Ford Motor Company planning to use wool in its car dashes to replace some non-recyclable parts.
He added that Ford used wool in its early automobiles.
A growing trend in western states is to use wool as insulation in houses.
“Out West it’s a big deal,” he said.
He said wool’s characteristics of not shrinking or not bending and of absorbing hydrocarbons and noise add to its popularity.
This use of wool has not reached the East, he said, noting the sheep industry has made efforts to find some interested in using the concept here.
Another alternative he mentioned is using wool as a fertilizer. It helps retain moisture in the soil as well as provide nourishment.
While leaders seek solutions for the industry, King said farmers will shear their sheep and hope the future brings better days.
1-800-634-5021 410-822-3965 Fax- 410-822-5068
P.O. Box 2026 Easton, MD 21601-8925