Some Manitoba sheep producers are balking at an industry trend towards a wool-bagging system that processors say is safer and more efficient to transport.
Sheep producers generally have two options for packaging wool, long tube bags made from jute or New Zealand square bags made of polyethylene.
At its annual general meeting in early March, the Manitoba Sheep Association (MSA) passed a resolution to lobby the Canadian Co-operative Wool Growers (CCWG) to continue to have a sufficient supply of long tube bags.
“The long tube bags are available right now, but the resolution comes as more of a concern because there has been a shift in terms of preference,” said Herman Bouw, chair of the MSA. “Those who have invested in a packing system for the tube bags are concerned suppliers may stop supplying them.”
The wool industry has seen an increase in the use of the square bags as they have been said to be easier and safer to pack and more efficient in transport.
“The New Zealand square bags are preferred because they are a more efficient way of transporting wool,” said Bouw. He said the difference can be significant, up to 10,000 pounds difference on a single trailer.
He says growers who are concerned about the change can expect a gradual conversion.
“I think there is a long switch over what is happening but no one needs to panic,” he said. “It is just becoming the preferred type of handling. Both style bags are equally accessible to producers at this time.”
Canada’s supplier of wool-packing material reassures Manitoba sheep producers there will be no drastic change in packaging options.
“We have plenty of inventory of both style bags available and it is entirely the choice of the producer or the shearer,” said Eric Bjergso, general manager of the CCWG. “There are a number of shearers who have pressers that use the tube bags and others prefer the square. There are both schools of thought out there, so that’s why we have both options available.”
Bjergso says he was surprised when he read the resolution, but notes there is no issue with supply or plans to purposely limit packaging options.
“I saw the motion in their newsletter and had been planning to follow it up because that should not be a concern at all,” said Bjergso. “I think that eventually the industry will make the transition to the square bags because I think they are more efficient and durable but we certainly have no intentions of pulling the rug out from producers and shearers who are wanting to use the tube bags.”
According to Bjergso, the concern around supply of tube bags should be focused less on industry preference and more on the global jute supply.
“Right now they have had severe crop failure in Bangladesh, where jute is produced, so that is a bit of a concern moving forward,” said Bjergso.
Jute prices rise
In early December, Mexim S.A., the fibre supplier and manufacturer from Switzerland that supplies the CCWG with tube or jute bags, informed them of volatility in the international jute market, based on twin crop failures in both Bangladesh and India, both major exporters.
Among other issues they noted the government of Bangladesh had extended a month-long export ban on jute “indefinitely.” The move also hit the Indian jute industry, which relies on imports from Bangladesh.
Adding to the situation, at the end of October a ‘Mandatory Jute Packaging Act’ was adopted in Bangladesh, requiring all production to be packaged in jute bags only, including products like fertilizer, sugar, rice and other food grains that were typically packaged in polypropylene and paper bags, contributing further to the global shortfall.
“These orders are literally drying up all the hessian cloth and bag production of Bangladeshi jute mills.”
India has seen more than a dozen jute mills closed after crop shortfall and the mills that remain in operation have reduced their production levels drastically.