New research project looks to improve future for UK wool industry
A new project is set to further the UK sheep farming and wool industries’ productivity, sustainability and resilience through exploring opportunities to improve fleece quality.
Joining together with industry partners, the National Sheep Association (NSA) is excited to be involved in the 12-month wool focused research project, Fabulous Fibre, that will look at increasing the value of wool through breeding and genetics.
The project goal is to conduct a feasibility study to evaluate the potential of reducing micron count of finer wool quality UK sheep breeds to increase productivity, sustainability and resilience for sheep farmers and the wool industry. Wool quality is measured by testing wool fibres to establish a micron value. Lower micron wool is softer to the touch in fabrics and more highly valued for textiles requiring this attribute such as high-quality suits or layers worn next to skin, the lower the micron, the greater the value per kilogram.
Fabulous Fibre brings together a consortium with a passion for the future of wool. The group comprises NSA, British Wool, the Centre for Excellence in Livestock (CIEL), Langrish Farmers and the Wool Testing Authority Europe (WTAE) all bringing essential resources and expertise to the project.
Phil Stocker, NSA Chief Executive, comments:
“If farmers can differentiate wool based on micron, they can produce consistent lines for sale, commanding price-premiums, or genetically improve wool quality. Wool traits are highly heritable so genetic gain can be fast once protocols for measurement and genetic evaluation are in place.
“This project supports UK sheep farmers, nature and wider society by focusing on production of premium quality. Benefits will be delivered to farmers in terms of profitability and sustainability while delivering net zero targets and more widely through environmental protection, increased biodiversity, carbon sequestration, employment and supporting rural communities. The project is funded by the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs’ Farming Innovation Programme Research Starter 3 Competition. It is part of Defra’s Farming Innovation Programme delivered in partnership with Innovate UK.”
There is a lack of sufficient data on individual animal micron level and no UK on-farm, objective measurement tool exists. Current testing is for aggregated lots from multiple farms, with no routine testing for farms or individual sheep. Lots are often highly variable for diameter, due to variation within animal fleeces, between animals and between farms, significantly reducing price.
Andrew Hogley, Chief Executive of British Wool adds:
“This project is extremely exciting. When you look at the wool currently produced in the UK there is very little that falls into the lower micron categories. Where it does, we are able to command a significant premium (Bluefaced Leicester wool trades at prices above those for comparable Australian wools). If we can produce lower micron wool in the UK it should command a significant premium and will also potentially open up new product opportunities for British wool.”
Frank Langrish’s sheep flock will be the starting point for the project’s research. He comments:
"A lower micron value increases the uses of wool and moves it from carpets and interior textiles to clothing and fashion items, greatly increasing the uses and value. My aim for the project is to reduce micron and variation in the fibre diameter to produce a premium product yet still have a functional sheep that produces both meat and wool from forage.”
An on-farm, portable wool-testing device will be piloted in the project to provide accurate, real-time data speeding up identification of finer wooled sheep within Frank’s flock. The accuracy of on-farm measurements will be compared to WTAE standards.
Dr Mark Young, Innovation Specialist at CIEL says:
“Initial phases will involve benchmarking Frank’s flock to identify superior quality breeding stock and assessing lambs produced in 2024 from these parents, allowing an estimation of the degree to which micron is genetically controlled (as heritability). Trade-offs will be monitored.”
The project began in October 2023 and will run for 12 months funded by Defras’ Farming Innovation Programme and delivered in partnership with Innovate UK. The initial project is focused on one breed on one farm but funding is sought for a longer three-year project to deliver more for all UK wool producers irrespective of sheep breed.
For more information please contact NSA Project Manager Nicola Noble at [email protected].Back to Press Releases