Having watched an auction take place in the morning members were impressed by the speed and efficiency of the system. Being completely computerised and automated the auction was quite a contrast to the traditional auction system many producers will have experienced at farm sales.
Members were then taken to the grading depot, a vast building which handles the collection, grading and packing of thousands of tonnes of fleece every year. Grading is still done by hand, with every fleece examined individually. Furthermore the system records the information about every producer's wool clip so that a fair price is given for their wool when it is sold. With some 59,078 registered sheep producers in the UK this requires an efficient system. Once graded wool is pressed into bales weighing approximately 350-500kg. A coring machine takes a sample of the wool from every bale, which goes to a lab for further analysis. Members learnt that it is this attention to detail and traceability that ensures that sheep producers in the UK get a considerably higher price for their wool than their European counterparts.
Once sold a large percentage of the wool travels the short distance to the Howarth Scouring Plant in Bradford. Here the wool is washed to remove grease and other impurities from the wool. Members were impressed by the environmental credentials of the company which boasts a use for most, if not all of the by-products of this process. From fertiliser to lanolin for the cosmetics industry, members were surprised by the many uses that had been found. Once cleaned the wool is carded or combed so that it can later be spun into yarn. British wool is commonly used for making carpets but can also be used in fabrics, bedding products, insulation or knitwear. Members were surprised to learn that over 60% of British wool is exported to more than 50 countries and it is demand in China in particular which is helping increase prices.
Members would like to thank the British Wool Marketing Board for their hospitality and continued hard work in handling, grading, marketing and promoting British wool. Click the link to find out more about the Campaign for British Wool or visit the BWMB website.