Facts about Organic Wool

organic wool facts

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.
  • There is a prohibition on use of synthetic hormones and genetic engineering.
  • Use of synthetic pesticides (internal, external, and on pastures) is prohibited.
  • 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) To control external parasites, such as ticks and lice, they can’t use parasiticides to dip sheep (insecticides) .

2) The natural carrying capacity of land on which animals graze cannot be exceeded. This is a requirement for organic livestock producers.

Third-party certification organizations must verify practices. Because of this, organic producers use only methods and materials allowed in organic production. Furthermore, the Organic Trade Association developed standards that restricts 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. A 2005 survey indicated 19,152 pounds (8,705 kilos) of organic wool were grown in the United States and Canada. 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
Colorado1300
Maine5520
Montana12,400
New Jersey1132
New Mexico215,300
Vermont1200
Total11 18,852

Table B: Amount of Organic Wool Produced in 2005 in Canada

ProvinceNumber of ProducersTotal Pounds
Ontario1300
Total Canada1300

Which breeds of sheep are used?
Common breeds from the survey: 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 conventional wool is. Because of that, 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. As a result, it does not have the economies of scale and resulting efficiencies of its conventional counterpart.
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.

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