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NSA and British Wool 'Wool Symposium' highlights need to promote wool’s cool credentials

27th October 2022

‘British wool should not be seen as a by-product’. This was the headline message coming from the National Sheep Association (NSA) Next Generation’s Wool Symposium earlier this month that brought together enthusiastic young sheep farmers and industry representatives to debate the future of this sustainable but often undervalued fibre.  

In partnership with British Wool, 13 next generation sheep farmers were invited by NSA to British Wool Headquarters in Bradford, West Yorkshire as part of a new initiative between the two farming organisations to gauge for themselves the future of British wool.

The two-day event gave the group the opportunity to see first-hand what happens at every step of the wool processing journey, from arrival at a grading depot to transformation at the scouring plant into a pristine fibre and the sale process at a British Wool auction.

Gareth Jones, British Wool Producer Marketing manager, comments: “Having the opportunity to demonstrate what we do for the producers to the next generation is key to the future of British Wool. Our purpose is to drive sustainable demand for British wool in order to maximise returns for our members. Taking the group through the full process from drop off to product allowed the group to experience the sheer size and scale of wool processing in the UK”.

With traceability now more than ever at the forefront of consumer buying trends, driving their decision-making processes when it comes to spending money, the group were also able to view and test a new British Wool automated traceability system enabling during their visit. The demonstration impressed the young sheep farmers showing how a single producer’s wool can be tracked through the whole facility.

Nicola Noble, NSA Project Manager joined the group and comments: “This visit really uncovered the sheer volumes of wool handled to the group. The amounts processed are huge, you don’t really get a sense of this until you are stood at the base of towering wool sacks as far as the eye can see.”

James Bickerton, British Wool Member Communications Supervisor, enlightened the group on the live online auction process, spurring an interesting discussion on prices, buyers and bidders before a more in-depth debate on the future use of wool revealed the young sheep farmers enthusiasm for increasing demand for wool and the removal of its modern day perception simply as a by-product of sheep meat production.

Group member Tom Stentiford from Essex highlighted the innovation potential to use the natural properties of wool for greater comfort and support within healthcare. “As a wheelchair user, it’s a constant battle to regulate my temperature, yet wheelchairs don’t standardly come with wool linings. Wool in both the back and chair would provide additional support and help keep me cool in the summer and warm in the winter,” he said.

Amy Edwards from North Yorkshire added: “There is a need to change the view and vision of sheep farming, spurring us to farm for quality wool, increasing the return value and maximise the benefits to our businesses. The main challenge to this is the wool price needs to reflect this. Potentially farmers testing and monitoring wool quality of individual sheep and implementing a breeding programme accordingly could lead to future breeding values for wool, making it easier for more farmers to work towards better quality wool. The only catch is despite wool quality being a heritable trait, it’s a long-term investment.”

A final message stemming from the discussion was the need for sustainable, eco-friendly processing within the wool supply chain and the crucial need for this positive messaging to be promoted more effectively to the wider public.

Mrs Noble concludes: “The NSA and British Wool Wool Symposium was an interesting two-day event filled with open discussion and a fantastic opportunity to engage with a group of passionate, young sheep farmers with the drive to understand, innovate and educate within the wool sector. Hopefully, the event has inspired them to be future wool ambassadors on their local farming scene.”