Manitoba sheep producers are missing a market opportunity shipping bulk wool out of province when there are fibre artists, spinners and knitters right here at home who’d love to get their hands on locally raised wool.
Unfortunately, these potential buyers have no idea who has fleeces to sell. Meanwhile, the handful of sheep producers who have them don’t know who the buyers are, or how to tap local markets.
There is a “big disconnect” between those want ing to buy locally produced wool and those producing it, said Winnipeg-based fibre artist, writer and knitwear designer Joanne Seiff.
Author of two books, Knit Green: 20 Projects and Ideas for Sustainabilityand Fiber Gathering,Seiff shared her expertise on the North American fibre market while speaking at the Manitoba sheep show and sale in Neepawa last month.
Many Manitoba producers are unaware of the potential value of their wool, she said. Few are even able to tell spinners what their own sheep’s wool is best suited for, which is the first question any spinner would ask.
“Manitoba has a very big problem in that sheep producers have had nothing to do with the people who actually buy wool,” she said. “We have to fix that.”
The first step is for more producers to stop shipping bulk wool and learning how to directly market to fibre artists, she added.
Newdale-area sheep producer Shelley Zahaiko said she’d like to tap local markets.
“I’m just at the stage of trying to learn how to process my own wool so I can maybe sell some finished products,” she said in an interview following Seiff’s workshop.
She has sold a few fleeces from her Jacob sheep in the past.
“But it was just by chance,” Zahaiko said. “Someone had heard we had Jacobs so they came to the farm and picked up the fleeces that they wanted.”
Gerry Oliver, a Carberryarea sheep producer said the Manitoba Sheep Association hopes that bringing Seiff to its show has encouraged more producers to start thinking about value-adding and direct marketing their wool.
Few do at this time. Some ship it to the wool co-operative but get a very small return for it. Others just toss fleece out as a useless byproduct.
“Wool prices are very low so the producer doesn’t put the same value on the wool product,” Oliver said.
“We’re hoping that we can start to bring together the wool producers with a different kind of user to add more value to our wool and to sheep as a whole.”
She will be contacting all MSA members to find out who may have fleeces for sale and plans to put a link on the MSA website to help potent ial buyers connect with them.
Several spinners, knitters and fibre artists were at the Gathering of the Flock weekend, displaying knitwear, accessories and artwork. They bought fleeces auctioned off following the wool competition.
“We’ve had the wool competition every year at our show and sale but we never seemed to have connected with the fibre artists,” said Oliver. “Now I’ve already had two people ask me for more wool.”
“Manitoba has a very big problem in that sheep producers have had nothing to do with the people who actually buy wool. We have to fix that.”
– JOANNE SEIFF, AUTHOR, KNITWEAR DESIGNER