More wool producers turn to Irish buyers

REBEL AT 71: John Blakey Senior, with Swaledale wool on the hoof. PICTURE: Gary Longbottom.
REBEL AT 71: John Blakey Senior, with Swaledale wool on the hoof. PICTURE: Gary Longbottom.
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A HEAP of bagged wool in a shed near Ripon last week proved the British Wool Marketing Board’s comeback still has some way to go.

The wool had been delivered to John Blakey’s haulage business depot, at Bridge Hewick, by farmers who still prefer an Irish shilling.

One of Mr Blakey’s customers is his father and farming partner, John Blakey Senior, who runs a thousand Swaledale ewes in the hills near Pateley Bridge.

The Yorkshire Post met both Mr Blakeys last week, along with Grace Dobson, northern collections organiser for Laurence Pierce, the Irish merchant currently taking English wool from under the board’s noses for the eighth year. Mrs Dobson, another big sheep farmer, at Grindleton, near Clitheroe, became a customer of Pierce’s five years ago and now runs eight more agents.

They are all unmoved by the bright bulletins from the Wool Board about improving prices.

John Blakey Senior said the final straw for him was getting a bill saying he owed the Wool Board money, because their costs were more than his clip was worth, when it was paying him 1p or 2p a kilo for Swaledale wool – which is strong but coarse and mainly wanted for carpet. Dalesbred is in the same category.

He went to Grace Dobson four years ago and got 10p a kilo. Last week, when we spoke, the price had just gone up from 40p to 45p, for a drive to fill an order. White wools, starting with the Pennine-standard “bred” wools, from Mules and Mule crosses, currently get £1.15 a kilo.

The money is a little less than the wool board expects to pay in the long run. But it is guaranteed within a week of the weigh-in.

Mrs Dobson said: “At the moment the Wool Board is paying 8p-13p deposit on Swaledale-type wool and 12p-14p a kilo for the bred wools and saying the balance will come next year. But nobody knows what it is going to be. They used to pay all the money within a couple of weeks of delivery.

“Then it went to half now and half later.

“Then it became 10 percent and the rest to be decided later – so you are getting paid pennies after you have gone to all the expense of shearing and you will have sheared again before you see the balance.

“We are getting more farmers all the time. The biggest problem we have is meeting demand, because a lot of farmers got into the habit of burning Swaledale wool when the board was paying nothing for it.”

Another complaint is that the wool board’s complicated grading system – designed to get the best match between wool quality and customer requirements – often means disappointment. The farmer hears a best price headlined but gets less because his wool is not quite in that category. The Irish buyer offers just two prices and no quibbles.

Mr Blakey Senior summed up: “Your wool goes on these scales and you get 100 percent of what you are quoted.

Most of the wool is shipped to Ireland after sorting by E&S Wools of Saltaire. Some is exported direct to China after washing by Chadwicks of Dewsbury.

Shearers charge £1.20 or £1.30. A typical hill sheep yields less than two kilos of wool and a mule-type about two and a half.

Mr Blakey Senior, aged 71, clipped 600 of his own this summer – although not only to keep costs down. “If I do it, I can see if the feet need doing or the horns are growing in,” he says.

Grace Dobson is on 07840 957803.


COMMENTING on their Irish rivals, Ian Hartley, chief executive of the wool board, said its projected total payment to the farmer for 2011 Swaledale wool was 58p a kilo. Mule wool would be expected to yield £1.38. He added: “On average, producers were paid 40-50 p/kg more than Pierce paid for the 2010 clip, and will be again for the 2011 clip. That is why 95 per cent of producers are still loyal.

“The price has gone up for everybody because of the board’s auction system and because of its promotional activity.”