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Wool prices feel the bounce

Sarah Laurenson of Jamieson & Smith: 'Could take more wool if it was available' - Photo: Pete Bevington

CROFTERS in Shetland have welcomed the rise in wool prices this week with some fleeces more than doubling in value.

The islands’ main wool purchasers Jamieson & Smith have announced that the price they pay local producers this year will rise by an average of 90 per cent across all grades, with lower grade fleeces going up by 160 per cent.

Superior coloured wool has risen from £2 to £2.50 a kilo, while the lowest quality Grade 4 wool has risen from just 50p to £1.30 a kilo.

The increase comes on top of last year’s price rise and makes a stark contrast with the situation in 2009 when it cost more to shear a sheep than was earned from the wool on its back. Some crofters were throwing fleeces straight into the skip.

There has been a similar price increase nationwide, though not quite as high, which is being put down to the global decline in sheep production and the rising price of oil pushing up the cost of synthetic fibres.

In Shetland, where in recent years sheep numbers have declined by more than a quarter to 283,000, the price hike is being put down to increased demand from major customers.

These include luxury bed manufacturers Vi-Spring who supply the super wealthy with super comfortable mattresses and like Shetland wool because of its “bounce”.

Sarah Laurenson, of Jamieson & Smith, said they had a long term contract with Vi-Spring that meant the price rise would last for the next few years. The company has also agreed to sponsor the annual Shetland Flock Book Society competition.

Promote Shetland and Shetland Amenity Trust are also working with the wool brokers on the Shetland Fine Lace Project and a sold out ‘Shetland wool holiday’ where 15 people tour the islands visiting local knitters and producers.

The Campaign for Real Wool led by the Prince of Wales has also raised Shetland wool’s status worldwide once again.

“We are selling all the wool we are getting and we could take more wool if it was available,” Ms Laurenson said. “We are looking for everything – whether it’s pure bred or cross, or rough or fine, we have a home for it all.”

The company is particularly keen to promote the return of coloured sheep wool, which has been in noticeable decline over the last few years.

Award winning sheep producer Addie Doull, from Sullom, said it was very important that the price for wool was going up.

“Two years ago we had come to the stage where we were beginning to think it wasn’t worth selling wool, it had come to the stage where it was costing more to have your sheep sheared than the value of the wool, but this past year it has returned to being worthwhile,” he said.

Jamieson & Smith managing director Oliver Henry, said the company’s main aim was to help sustain and build Shetland’s textile and crofting industries.

“We are able to offer continued increased prices because of the sustained high level of demand for all types of wool from Shetland,” he said, adding that Shetland wool was now “an internationally recognised and celebrated niche product”.