Sheep farmers have been urged to continue to feed wool into wool depots, for fear shortages due to low prices could permanently disrupt the sector.

Ulster Farmers' Union deputy president William Irvine told journalists on Thursday: "Although farmers are basically supplying wool for nothing at the minute, the wool board is very keen that they continue to do so because the whole structure around the sale of wool would collapse if it doesn't keep moving - even if it is a pointless exercise from a financial point-of-view.

"But hopefully, there will be a better day to come and if the supply stops now, there will be no structures in place to facilitate the movement of it when there is a better price."

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It's been a hard year for the wool industry, with prices through the floor after international wool auctions halted in April 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

As a result, British Wool, Ulster Wool's parent company, was left with around 11 million kilos of unsold wool.

British Wool says it has now made its way through the unsold wool but last week announced it was closing four of its grading depots in Britain - with Irvine, Porthmadog, Stamford and Liskeard all to close as part of a £1.5 million cost-saving plan.

No 'positive moves' for government support

Union president Victor Chestnutt added that he was "very concerned" about the future of the wool industry.

"[Wool is] a very small part of a sheep farmer’s income but nevertheless, an income," he said.

"There doesn’t seem to be any positive moves within the department [DAERA] to support that sector - I would be concerned going forward for it.

I would like to see some sort of help to innovate and look at the future of wool because wool has become valueless but it is a natural product which has many properties – such as insulation.

"I would really like to see something done to try to get a market long-term for our wool because it is a cost now to clip it off the ewe and not a nice thing to have lying around the farm.

"But surely there is something in a cheaper type of product, which we could put it into to make it into a valuable resource."