Innovators led the conversation at the Annual Convention of the American Sheep Industry Association, which took place 12 January in Denver, Colorado.

From wool pellets to sponges to climate beneficial programs and manufacturing, American wool producers are finding new ways to do more with less. Since 1995, American domestic mill consumption of wool has decreased from 142 million pounds to 10 million pounds.

Approximately 65 percent of the American wool clip is now exported, but domestic mills are more efficient than ever before. This is thanks to long-term investments in new equipment that compliments historic machinery still in use.

Regenerative agriculture and climate-smart wool

Innovators such as Albert Wilde are taking American wool into the realm of regenerative agriculture while building a market for coarser wools that are often difficult to sell. His Wild Valley Farms developed a pelleted wool product that can be used in gardens, flowerpots and more.

“Wool is the only soil amendment in the world that solves all three problems that growers face when caring for their plants [high nitrogen, holds water and softens soil],” Wilde said. The company is introducing American consumers to a whole new side of wool as it reaches retail markets around the United States.

California’s Marie Hoff has found similar success putting wool to use in household sponges. She developed a practical, everyday dish sponge that can be ordered online and is also starting to find a home in retail outlets in her area. The sponges provide consumers with an environmentally friendly product that utilizes a readily available and abundant supply of coarse wool.

Read More About Wild Valley Farms: Wool and Soil: How Wool Gives Back to the Environment

USDA grant for climate-smart wool development

Last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded a $30 million grant to a partnership of entities looking to develop climate-smart wool and cotton production in several areas of the United States. Fibershed’s Mike Conover and NCAT’s Linda Poole joined the Wool Roundtable virtually to provide an update on the program as it hits the ground running in 2024.

The goal is to develop lands that are more productive and drought resistant with higher quality forage to produce healthier sheep and higher quality wool. Producers in California, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota and New York State can visit to learn more.

Market intelligence: interest rates to be key driver

Rounding out the meeting was Isak Staats, chair of the International Wool Textile Organisation’s Market Intelligence Committee. Australia remains the largest producer of clean wool, making the country a dominant player in the market. Staats said Australian producers are faced with high interest rates and low commodity prices, so expect that they will prioritize wool production.

Manufacturing – particularly in Germany – continues to face challenges. Fortunately, shipping rates have decreased, benefiting producers and consumers. Major consumer markets include Europe, America and China, much of where inflation is an issue. However, interest rates are expected to decrease, meaning that consumers may find some relief.

Wool makes up only 1 percent of all textiles, meaning consumers buy wool with discretionary spending. According to the European Central Bank, the probability of an economic recession has reduced from 60 percent to 25 percent in the next six to 12 months. Future challenges include climate change and the need to prove wool’s sustainability credentials, which continues to grow in demand.

In conclusion, Staats said, interest rates will be a big driver moving forward, supply will come under pressure and indicators point toward an increasing wool price.

“Baring anything major happening, I think we are moving into a better world for our product in the short term,” he concluded.

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