New season wool is now arriving at the Ulster Wool depot in Co. Antrim. Traditionally, Balmoral Show is the start to the new wool season in Northern Ireland.

Ulster Wool chair, Brendan Kelly, said: “It has been the usual slow start to the wool season. Volumes coming into our depot in Muckamore will start to build up during the weeks ahead.”

Kelly, who is also Northern Ireland’s representative on British Wool, was recently re-elected for a further three-year term.

“A key objective is to ensure that the monthly wool auctions are delivering the best possible price on behalf of flock owners.

“It’s far from bad news in this regard. We now have 164 licensees committing to use and specifying UK wool in their products.”

“British Wool is also working closely with organisations in both New Zealand and Australia to secure improvements in the global prices paid for wool.

“Currently, the prices being achieved at British Wool auctions are on a par with those being secured in New Zealand for comparable grades of wool,” he said.

Significantly, Kelly is predicting a reduction in wool volumes handled by British Wool over the coming 12 months.  

Kelly also confirmed that fleece weights were lower in 2023, relative to what would have been expected in a normal year.

Wool returns

As a result of the reduced wool clip in 2023, wool returns are similar to last year for Ulster Wool members in 2024.

“Prices strengthened in the autumn, but have weakened again over the last two months, with mountain wool types struggling all season. As a group, along with British Wool, we handled 2,500t less wool in 2023, primarily due to lighter fleeces.

“Our typical member delivered 10% less wool in 2023 than in 2022,” he added.

Kelly explained that decline in wool volumes reduced returns by around 7p/kg, and that if Ulster Wool had handled the same weight as the previous year, many grades would have been up 20p/fleece. 

“Every additional 500t we handle, improves returns for all members by 1.5p/kg,” he said.

With plastics positioned as wool’s greatest competitor, low wool prices are an issue globally. 

New income streams are making a growing contribution towards members’ payments. The traceability scheme generated £150,000, while grading for the Isle of Man and other initiatives also boosted returns.

The chair continued: “We are committed to creating long-term value for sheep farmers. 

“Sheep farmers can be a stronger force by supporting Ulster Wool together.  We understand the recent wool prices have been disappointed to many, including ourselves.”

“But with the initiatives we have in place, from traceability to our consumer marketing activity and our licensing scheme, we truly believe that the long-term outlook is encouraging.

“As such, we urge sheep farmers to continue supporting us as we continue to navigate these difficult times. Working together, we can build a positive future for wool.”