IWTO discuss American Wool TraditionsHow can the wool industry be sustained in the modern world? By highlighting the traditional values at the heart of sheep farming, says Larry Prager, CEO of Center of the Nation Wool in Belle Fourche, South Dakota.

Prager, manager of Center of the Nation Wool for the past 30 years, presented an overview of American wool traditions at last year’s Wool Round Table in Montreal. For generations, American wool and sheep producers have been committed to supplying natural fibres and offering sustainable care to America’s grasslands.

This, says Prager, is the key to their ongoing prioritisation and survival.

An Uncertain Market for American Wool

Today, the American wool industry faces a challenging reality: its total output is double what the local market demands. This means that producers must find buyers for their wool in the export market.

In that export market, American wools compete with others from the likes of Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Canada and South Africa. Wool production therefore faces an uncertain future in the US economy.

An Appeal to Tradition

The sustainability of the American wool industry rests on its roots in tradition and family, says Prager. Shepherds care for their flocks, and families collaboratively maintain farms for generations.. The entire enterprise acts as a steward for America’s native grasslands, which need protection against the encroachment of modernity and climate change.

Center of the Nation Wool is a wool marketing warehouse. Families bring their wool to Center of the Nation for sale, mostly Rambouillet and Targhee, with wools in the 20-22 micron range. The yield rate is 50-60%.

The challenges faced by these wool producers are not limited to the uncertainties of the markets for both wool and lamb. South Dakota has hot summers and long winters. Predators are a constant threat. Now, too, there is the pressure of rising overheads.

Still, “the life of a shepherd is never boring,” Prager says. He urges the wool industry to promote the value of wool and the story of the shepherd, and to emphasize the industry’s “dedication to a tradition of caring.”

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