Ulster Wool, a farmer-owned cooperative, has been hailed as an example of collective marketing and praised for its success in improving prices for sheep farmers in Northern Ireland.

Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) Sheep Committee chair, Kevin Comiskey said that Ulster Wool’s coordinated approach had greatly benefitted its farmer members.

“Farmers in Northern Ireland selling wool through [the] Ulster Wool scheme typically traded well above prices in the Republic of Ireland because of the structures in place,” Comiskey stated.

Visit to Ulster Wool

Comiskey, who recently visited Ulster Wool’s parent company British Wool in Bradford, UK, said he wanted to see a similar organisation established in Ireland.

He believes there are huge opportunities to develop a unique brand for Irish wool and the work must start immediately, adding:

“Discussions with Ulster Wool show what can be achieved where a coordinated approach with government support is provided in the promotion, marketing and processing of wool.

“These are systems and structures that can and must be replicated for wool from the Republic of Ireland.”

In its wool feasibility report published in July, the Department for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) committed €30,000 to help establish an Irish wool council. However, this has yet to be taken further.

Ulster Wool CEO Andrew Hogley said the cooperative principles it operates by enabled sheep farmers to benefit from economies of scale.

“We believe that working together is the only way forward. Ulster Wool is the only organisation that collects, grades and sells all wool on behalf of sheep farmers in Northern Ireland,” he said.

“We still have work to do to generate demand and raise prices further as our number one aim remains to return the best price to our farmer members.

“We were delighted to host Mr. Comiskey and colleagues from the IFA and explain our processes and we wish them well in developing a market for Irish wool,” he continued.

Wool prices

Wool prices have strengthened since the easing of the Covid-19 pandemic measures in countries around the world.

However, Hogley believes that the market has more to give.

“The hospitality sector, a very significant end user of the wool produced in the UK, shut down completely during the pandemic,” he explained.

“Recent months have seen the likes of hotels and cruise-line operators starting to invest again in their businesses. As a consequence of this, demand for high-quality woollen carpets is increasing.

“This is good news for farmers, who will benefit from a stronger wool price. And we want to build on this for the future,” he added.