10 of May of 2011

The unpredictable market for wool has caused many sheep farmers to re-evaluate their priorities. In some countries, including Australia and Britain, the low price of wool has at times made it worthless to sell and it has been burnt. Speciality markets have been found for some types of wool. Fine Merino-type wool (<25 microns) has an ongoing outlet in the fine-apparel market, and wool with fibre diameter of 45-60 is used for worsted and similar products. Even very coarse wools also may find speciality uses, but wool in the range 25-45 microns probably has suffered the most difficult market conditions. Some breeds in this category have been crossed with Merino; others have been replaced by breeds with a self-shedding fleece, but now a new opportunity has been identified. Please look at an article in the Economist on 10 May (A Golden Fleece?). It reports on the use of wool, especially that in the 25-40 microns range, as a medium to soak up oil spills. The recent spill in the Gulf of Mexico makes this very relevant. Wool repels water and absorbs oil, and has been shown able to absorb ten times its own weight of heavy fuel oil. It would provide a useful and relatively inexpensive tool for the oil industry and a welcome market to increase returns to sheep farmers.