Farmers’ views: ‘If you had to travel to get rid of the wool you wouldn’t get the price of the diesel back’

2020 has been a mixed year for sheep farmers. Lamb prices have been strong for the most part throughout the year, with the exception of the odd drop off in price here and there.

However, in terms of the wool market, yet again, farmers have had to deal with another tough year, with some wool merchants saying that wool from mountain-type ewes is worthless.

Last year, quotes for lowland-type wool were in around 50c/kg, with some farmers getting up to as much as 70c/kg.

This year, the wool market has been severely effected by the outbreak of Covid-19; however, prices have been on the decline for a long time now.

Earlier this summer, AgriLand spoke to a couple of wool merchants to get a feel for what wool might be worth this year.

Most merchants were quoting between 10c/kg and 20c/kg for lowland wool, with hill-type wool as good as worthless.

To find out what farmers actually got for their wool clip this year, AgriLand caught up with a couple of sheep farmers from various parts of the country to find out.

First up was Denis Halpin, a sheep farmer in Co. Wicklow, who this year shore 350 ewes and dry hoggets.

Denis Halpin

He said: To be honest with you, the wool is still in the shed because I never bothered to try and sell it. I heard people around me were being offered 20c/kg. We have been busy over the last while so we haven’t actually tried to sell it but from what I’m hearing it’s not worth selling. 

In saying that, I will have to tidy it up before the winter and look at moving it off the farm because it will be in the way when it comes to housing the ewes for the winter. 

Usually I would try and get rid of it in July or August, but with the coronavirus I didn’t want to stir as I am over 60 years-of-age, so I just left it there for the time being. 

I have about 1.1-1.2t of wool sitting there but realistically I’m only talking about getting €250 for it and it cost €2.30/head to shore each ewe, which left me with a bill of over €800.

So, with prices on the floor it wasn’t really worth my while rushing to get rid of it.

Last year, I was getting 70c/kg and the year before that I was getting over 80c/kg, so to see it being worth as little as 20c/kg and even less is disappointing.

Next up was Sean McNamara, who farms in Co. Offaly. Sean is also the sheep chairperson of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA).

Sean McNamara

He noted: The price of wool has been on the decline for a long time now but this year has been really disappointing. 

I was quoted 10c/kg for wool this year. I’d have up on 1,000 ewes, so you can imagine the size of the bill I got to get that number shorn. The price you get for wool nowadays doesn’t come close to just even paying the contractor, never mind having a bit out of it for yourself.

We [ICSA] are looking at alternative uses for wool because farmers can’t continue paying say €2.00 to shear a ewe and only get 10-20c/kg for the wool. It is not sustainable. 

Also Read: ICSA and wool industry figures 'chart way forward' for sector

I know of farmers who have had to pay up on €2.50-3.00/head to get ewes shorn. When you have big numbers the bill can be quite substantial. 

I know of many farmers who have just left the wool in the shed and it will stay there in many cases for the foreseeable future.

Third on the list was Kenny O’Donnell, who runs a pedigree and commercial flock of ewes in Belmullet, Co. Mayo.

Kenny O’Donnell

His thoughts were: This year’s wool clip is actually still in the shed. It wasn’t worth giving away. I was offered 14c/kg for the crossbred wool. I was then offered that they [wool merchant] would take the wool from the mountain ewes off me for nothing; I wouldn’t get paid for it basically.

In my view it can’t get any worse [wool market]. I’ll hold onto the wool until next year and see will it be worth any bit more. Even last year I was getting 45c/kg, which was only covering about half of the shearing costs. 

The way it is now this year, it is a total loss. This year it was working out at €2.00/head to shore the ewes. Unfortunately we are losing out every year. But it has to be done [shearing] for the welfare of the animals. 

If you had to travel to get rid of the wool you wouldn’t get the price of the diesel back for it, which is a very sad case.  

There are bags and bags of wool out this part of the country off mountain-type sheep that is basically absolutely worthless in today’s market. 

A lot of the farmers out this way are just hanging it up in the shed and waiting to see will things improve next year.

Finally, last on the list was Fergal McDermott, a beef and sheep farmer from Drumgorry, Co. Cavan.

Fergal McDermott

His views were: The wool market is in a disappointing place and has been for the last few years. I remember about four years ago, the price I was getting for wool was nearly covering the cost of what is was to shore the ewes. 

However, now it doesn’t come close to it. I think my bill this year was just over €900. It was working out at €2.00/head and I was only being offered 8c/kg for the wool. 

I can’t remember the exact figure off the top of my head but I think I ended up getting just over €90 for this year’s wool clip. 

The only bright side this year is the fact that lamb prices have been strong. It sort of helped to make up for the bad prices that we were getting for wool.