Certified Wool Programs Assist in Wool Quality Improvement
March 31, 2005
By Ross McSwain
March/April 2005 -- In an effort to strengthen the American wool industry and increase the value of U.S. wool, the American Wool Council has developed the U.S. Certified Wool Programs, which are now being initiated throughout the wool growing areas of the country.
"I'm excited about the program," says Robert F. "Bob" Padula, wool quality consultant to the Wool Council, a division of the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI). "It's another way for growers to let people know they are producing a quality wool clip. Everybody knows it is easier to sell a quality wool clip than one that has not been improved."
Padula provided details about the two new quality improvement programs -- the "Certified Clip" and "Certified Shearing" -- during the recent ASI convention held in Reno, Nev., on Jan. 26-29, 2005.
Sheep producers and shearers are encouraged to take part in one of the three programs which follow the Code of Practice for Preparation of U.S. Wool that has been developed by ASI and the U.S. Wool Marketing Trade.
Growers have an option of producing either a "Choice Wool Clip" or a "Premium Wool Clip," and voluntarily signing an agreement whereby they promise to follow certain techniques to improve their wool preparation and packing measures regardless of breed type, operation size or geographic location.
"Wool preparation cannot necessarily change market conditions, but it can increase the number of markets available to producers," Padula says. "As more producers and shearers participate in the programs, confidence will grow among buyers and processors of U.S. wool, thus improving the reputation for all American wool producers."
For most producers, the Choice Wool Clip program will best fit their needs. In fact, many wool marketers say most of their producers already follow a similar improvement program. Basically, growers will agree to do the following: (1) use a certified shearer or shearing crew; (2) minimize all wool contamination with emphasis on polypropylene and colored fibers; (3) sort sheep prior to shearing by wool type and package wool separately; (4) remove belly wool and package belly wool separately from fleeces and tags; (5) use only new and approved non-contaminating wool packing materials; (6) guard against contamination due to carelessness or neglect; (7) label all wool bags and packs properly; (8) maintain a written record of the wool clip; and (9) notify marketing agency of actions taken to produce a Choice Wool Clip and file necessary documents.
Shearers taking part in the program would have four basic requirements: (1) reduce contamination by every possible means; (2) take proper steps in the shearing order, such as not shearing an out-of-sequence sheep, shear by wool type and package wool separately; (3) proper wool preparation, such as packing wool for proper marketing; (4) proper packaging and labeling according to the Code of Practice guidelines.
Jim Bristol, a Michigan wool producer and shearing contractor, who serves as chairman of the ASI Shearing Task Force Committee, says the certification program is good because it gets everyone involved.
"There is no organization in the United States that police's wool quality," Bristol explains.
Bristol says he recently had a meeting with shearers at the Denver Stock Show, discovering that shearers do realize the need to standardize their practice.
"There is no system here now, and we need a system so we can be the same or better prepared," says Bristol.
"Shearers in Michigan are jumping on board. Anything we can do to take the guess work out of how the wool has been prepared will help the producer sell on the domestic and international market," he says.
Wool marketers also have a positive view of the U.S. Certified Wool Program, but some say it will take a selling effort to get all producers to sign-off on the program.
"I think it is a good deal," said Don Van Nostran, manager of Mid States Wool Growers Cooperative Association in Canal Winchester, Ohio. "It is a way we can improve the U.S. clip for sale on the world market."
Van Nostran said most of his customers, located east of the Mississippi River and east of the Rocky Mountains, are small operators with an average flock size of 40 to 60 ewes. He believes the certification system can help reduce fiber contamination, which affects many flocks. His firm currently grades about 2.5 million lbs. of wool per year from more than 4,000 growers in some 22 states.
"The program will readily help to clean up the clips," he says.
Managers of large wool marketing organizations in the Southwest and California agree that the certification program can be beneficial to growers willing to follow the requirements, but many of their producers are still learning about the program.
Mike Corn, manager of Roswell Wool LLC, in New Mexico, has held several producer meetings and customer appreciation lunches to make growers aware of the program and its benefits.
"I don't know how well it was received," he says, "but it has to be a paying proposition. Most of the requirements for meeting certified Choice Wool Clips are being done now, but more can be done. The key is how uniformly it is being done. Our buyers want to see the 'proof of the puddin'.'"
Corn's big concern is fiber contamination. He believes growers can do more by just taking an extra step, such as cleaning barns before shearing, not keeping poly twine on the premises and urging shearers to be more alert about contaminated fibers.
"Just taking an extra step can be beneficial and profitable," he says.
John Mackenzie, manager of Cal-Wool Marketing Association of Stockton, Calif., says the Certified Wool Clip program is broad enough to help both large and smaller producers, but he does not know how quickly his customers will enter into the program.
"It's very much in discussion, but some growers are concerned about how much the program will cost to implement," Mackenzie said. "Other growers want to improve their wool clips. They have lived off the lamb market and want to do better."
Mackenzie, a veteran of more than 50 years in the wool industry stretching from Argentina to Montana, believes U.S. producers must improve their wool clips in order to compete on the world market.
"The Australians have exceptional wool and they have done it by improving their wool clips. We can do the same here," he says.
Mackenzie will be meeting with his grower customers regularly during the next few months to encourage them to take advantage of the improvement program. However, he is concerned about the availability of finding shearing crews that will sign up.
Ronald Pope, manager of Producers Marketing Cooperative Inc., of Mertzon, Texas, says his firm is already geared up to meet most of the Certified Wool Clip requirements and his producers will provide both Choice and Premium Clips to the marketplace.
"I think the program is something we can build on," he says. "I plan on getting our shearers to sign-off on it because their work can help determine whether the wool clip is Premium or Choice."
Pope says manufacturers and processors want quality assurance from their suppliers, and he believes the certified program can provide that in the future.
The marketers say the only weak link in the program is its self-policing. However, Padula believes increasing the wool's value will encourage growers to put up their wool better.
Texas A&M University's Research and Extension Center was asked to conduct a national study to look at preparation and wool prices and pass along results of the study to the ASI convention held in Reno.
David P. Anderson, Ph.D., an extension economist with Texas A&M, cautions that the results, so far, are limited by the available historical information and the accuracy of the comparative descriptions. However, it is believed that wool preparation and volume are major factors causing this price differential.
In terms of price differences for preparation, Anderson says, data to date suggests that main fleece lines from Table Skirted and Classed (TSC) wool obtained a 23.5-percent premium over wool prepared Bellies Out (BOU). For the total return to the grower, TSC wool achieved, on average, an 8.4-percent premium over BOU wool.
Glen Fisher of Sonora, Texas, a rancher and former wool warehouse manager and newly elected secretary-treasurer of ASI, noted that "money is the bottom line," so taking part in the program is in the best interest of the grower.
"If we can get enough participation in the program, I believe it will be of value to the producer," he says. Fisher was a member of the American Wool Council committee that developed the program.