This article is reprinted courtesy of The Organic Trade Association. Copyright 2005.
What is organic wool?
In order for wool to be certified as “organic,” it must be produced in accordance with federal standards for organic livestock production. Federal requirements for organic livestock production include:
- Livestock feed and forage used from the last third of gestation must be certified organic;
- Use of synthetic hormones and genetic engineering is prohibited;
- Use of synthetic pesticides (internal, external, and on pastures) is prohibited, and
- Producers must encourage livestock health through good cultural and management practices.
Organic livestock management is different from non-organic management in at least two major ways: 1) sheep cannot be dipped in parasiticides (insecticides) to control external parasites such as ticks and lice, and 2) organic livestock producers are required to ensure that they do not exceed the natural carrying capacity of the land on which their animals graze.
Third-party certification organizations verify that organic producers use only methods and materials allowed in organic production. The Organic Trade Association has developed standards that apply to the processing of organic wool.
How much organic wool is available in the United States and Canada today?
In 2005, M+R Strategic Services undertook a survey for the Organic Trade Association concerning organic wool production and markets in the United States and Canada. Responses to the survey indicated that 19,152 pounds (8,705 kilos) of organic wool were grown in the United States and Canada in 2005. Specifically, 18,852 pounds (8,551 kilos) of grease wool (shorn, without any cleaning, scouring or further processing) were produced in six U.S. states and 300 pounds (136 kilos) were produced in Ontario (see Tables 1 and 2).
New Mexico, with 15,300 pounds (6,940 kilos), was the leading producer of certified organic wool in North America, representing 81% of U.S. and 80% of North American organic wool production, followed by Montana (2,400 pounds), Maine (520 pounds), Ontario (300 pounds), Vermont (200 pounds), and New Jersey (132 pounds).
Table A: Amount of Organic Wool Produced in 2005 in the U.S.
|State||Producers||Total Pounds of Wool|
Table B: Amount of Organic Wool Produced in 2005 in Canada
|Province||Number of Producers||Total Pounds|
Which breeds of sheep are used in organic wool production?
The lead breeds identified in the survey by number were: Columbia, Navajo-Churro, Rambouillet, Rambouillet/Suffolk Cross.
Others include: Border Leicester, Cheviot, Cormo, Dorset, Karakul, Icelandic, Southdown, Suffolk, Tunis, and unspecified crosses.
How is organic wool used?
Organic wool can be used in any application in which conventional wool is used. Some of the organic wool products most widely available today: baby clothes, blankets, coats, knitting yarn, socks, sweaters, and throws. As the market for organic wool products grows, so too are applications expanding for its use.
Why does organic wool cost more than conventional wool?
The cost of organic wool is more than that of conventional for several reasons:
1) Organic wool producers receive a higher price at the farm gate as their costs of production are higher, primarily associated with higher labor, management, and certification costs;
2) The organic wool industry is very small relative to the overall wool industry and does not have the economies of scale and resulting efficiencies of its conventional counterpart, and
3) Federal organic standards for livestock production prohibit overgrazing. If the price of wool is low, the difference cannot be made up by simply increasing production per unit of land, as is commonly practiced by many livestock producers.