We have a Tay­lor-made op­por­tu­nity to halt the shock­ing de­cline in wool prices

Irish Independent - Farming - - COMMENT - Dar­ragh Mc­Cul­lough

Tay­lor Swift set sheep farm­ers’ hearts thump­ing last week when she pulled on an Aran jumper to pro­mote her new al­bum.

They hope that some of her 200 mil­lion fol­low­ers on so­cial media will fol­low her ex­am­ple and cre­ate a run on Ir­ish knitwear.

Which would be great, ex­cept that even Tay­lor Swift can’t sin­gle­hand­edly save the internatio­nal wool business.

Wool prices are so low this year that many farm­ers are just dump­ing the prod­uct in their fields for com­post­ing.

So while ev­ery­body is go­ing green, vot­ing green and think­ing green, in re­al­ity so­ci­ety con­tin­ues to plun­der the planet and ig­nore the so­lu­tions star­ing them in the face.

Be­cause I am not wear­ing a sin­gle item that con­tains wool, and nei­ther are the vast ma­jor­ity of peo­ple read­ing this.

There shouldn’t be anything wrong with that. Cot­ton can be a perfectly sus­tain­able source of fi­bre for cloth­ing.

Ex­cept sci­en­tists are grad­u­ally un­veil­ing the ugly re­al­ity that our ob­ses­sion with syn­thetic fi­bres has cre­ated.

Nearly two-thirds of all the cloth­ing we wear is made from syn­thetic ma­te­ri­als which are in­vari­ably de­riv­a­tives of oil. They are forms of plas­tic, and there­fore are des­tined to stick around for hun­dreds of years in our land­fills and oceans.

It’s shock­ing to think that from a stand­ing start in the 1950s when plas­tics first emerged into ev­ery­day life, the world now pumps out over 350 mil­lion tonnes a year. For con­text, this is roughly equiv­a­lent to the mass of two-thirds of the world pop­u­la­tion.

Tex­tiles is the second biggest cul­prit in terms of plas­tic waste, gen­er­at­ing 42 mil­lion tonnes of dumped prod­uct an­nu­ally.

All those lit­tle fi­bres you find in the filter of your drier are ex­actly what is get­ting sloshed around our oceans, fill­ing up the guts of ma­rine life.

Or else the re­lent­less pound­ing of the tides grinds down the item into the mi­croplas­tics that have now in­fil­trated our wa­ter sup­plies, soils and even our food.

There’s po­etic jus­tice in these fish, after spend­ing a life­time feed­ing on our wan­ton waste, end­ing up on our din­ner plates.

Value

But against this back­ground, how is it pos­si­ble that such a su­perb nat­u­ral fi­bre like wool ends up be­ing worth so lit­tle that it has even less value than farmyard ma­nure?

Wool was al­ways prized as a su­perb ma­te­rial for cloth­ing be­cause it nat­u­rally does all the things that have been so la­bo­ri­ously en­gi­neered into our mod­ern ‘hi-tech’ fi­bres.

It has bril­liant in­su­la­tion val­ues, while at the same time be­ing able to ‘breathe’.

It also dries eas­ily, holds its shape, is hard-wear­ing, and takes colours in what­ever shade of the rain­bow we fancy.

De­spite all these won­der­ful char­ac­ter­is­tics, farm­ers haven’t been able to re­coup even the cost of shear­ing the fleece for years.

The lat­est quotes I hear are of the order of 10c/kg, or less than 50c per fleece. The shearer has to be paid €2.50 at least for their time and skill, so the farmer is left car­ry­ing the cost.

No won­der there’s such an in­ter­est in new breeds of sheep that shed their wool. Known as Easy­care breeds, these sheep may well be the fu­ture of the sec­tor since they cost less to main­tain.

Not only does the farmer save the cost of the shear­ing, but also the dip­ping and pour-ons to pre­vent fly-strike, and they cost less to feed since they are putting no energy into grow­ing a fleece.

But it strikes me as crim­i­nal if an en­tire sec­tor has to turn its back on such a qual­ity prod­uct.

In an era when sus­tain­abil­ity is sup­posed to be key to everything we do, how is it that wool only ac­counts for 1pc of the cloth­ing we wear? Why

Coun­try girl:

Tay­lor Swift, one of the biggest­selling and most in­flu­en­tial mu­si­cians in the world, has donned an Aranstyle jumper to pro­mote her folk-in­flu­enced new al­bum

do we con­tinue to pump our at­tics and walls with poly­styrene and foam when wool could be just as good?

As one of the biggest sheep-meat ex­porters in the world, how have we not been able to cap­i­talise on the mas­sive internatio­nal her­itage that Aan knitwear has in spades?

The 5,500 tonnes of wool that we sell ev­ery year for half noth­ing to face­less traders in Brad­ford is a mas­sive wasted op­por­tu­nity to cre­ate another Ker­ry­gold, Jame­son or Guin­ness brand that ba­si­cally sells it­self.

Global su­per­stars like Tay­lor Swift get it. How much more en­cour­age­ment do we need?

The 5,500 tonnes of wool we sell for half noth­ing ev­ery year is a mas­sive wasted op­por­tu­nity. Why have we been un­able to cap­i­talise on the mas­sive internatio­nal her­itage that Aran knitwear has in spades?

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