By Amy Conner
December, 2004 -- John Mackenzie, manager of Cal-Wool Marketing Association, says he has seen the wool industry in the United States change dramatically in the last five to seven years. The decrease in wool volume and mills and the increase use of foreign buyers are just a few.
The use of technology in wool testing is also a change for a man who?s been involved in the wool industry on a worldwide basis for more than 45 years.
Over the past few years, Mackenzie has adopted the use of core tests and the grab sampling machine into his business. The core tests are sent to Yocom-McColl Testing Labs where they are tested for micron, vegetable matter content and yield. The grab sample is tested for length and strength.
?The test results, along with a sample from the bale, allow buyers to know exactly what they are getting,? Mackenzie says. ?In addition, they also allow me to put pressure on the buyer to get the price the wool deserves.?
The increased use of international buyers has also helped move the wool in and out of the doors of Cal-Wool.
?Four or five years ago, the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) made a huge effort to bring wool buyers from other countries here. Those efforts, along with my contacts established before I moved to the United States, have benefited Cal-Wool,? Mackenzie says.
All of these combined factors have assisted in the progress of the U.S. wool industry. However, one of Mackenzie?s main concerns for the industry is the decreasing number of shearers and the lack of quality shearing.
?A lot more attention should be paid to the shearing crews by the growers,? he expresses.
He says that some shearing crews are not correctly completing the steps needed to ensure a good clip. He stresses the point that all shearing crews should be equipped with a skirter and, regardless of whether the wool has been graded or not, the nylon packs should be filled to the correct weight.
?I?ve explained the proper techniques to the shearing crews many times, but the grower also needs to be on top of the crews to make sure the shearing is performed correctly,? Mackenzie says.
To address this concern, Mackenzie mentioned the adoption of the certified-shearing program that ASI will soon be implementing in the industry.
An encouraging shift in some sheep operations that Mackenzie works with is the growers expressing the desire to improve their wool clip. Mackenzie is excited by this and is willing to assist in any way possible.
?If a grower wants a better wool clip, I tell them the process has to start way before shearing time ? it takes a selection process when breeding,? he says. ?A grower won?t change his wool clip by grading it -- this process simply separates coarse from fine, long from short, strong (sound) from break and etc. If it?s a good wool clip, it will end up in two to three different grades, if it?s not, the wool will end up in more than four grades.?
Incorporating a selective breeding process, along with good shearing techniques, will benefit the wool. However, don?t expect it to happen overnight. Mackenzie stresses the fact that producing a quality wool clip takes many years to produce.