Wool Profile

Revised April 2012 by Gary Brester, professor, Department of Agricultural Economics, Montana State University, gbrester@montana.edu

Updated September 2018.

Production

U.S. greasy shorn wool production was 26 million pounds in 2017, up slightly from 2016. Sheep and lambs shorn for wool totaled more than 3.4 million head in 2017. The top states for wool production are Texas, California, Wyoming, Colorado and Utah (NASS, 2017).

U.S. wool production has declined along with decreasing lamb inventories. Nonetheless, U.S. wool production per animal has remained relatively constant. The average production of greasy wool per shorn sheep is 7.2 pounds.

Demand

The demand for wool has declined since the mid-1940s with the advent of synthetic fibers. Most wool produced in the United States is sold as raw fleece wool. Wool producers use various marketing channels. Private or cooperative wool warehouses are the primary mechanisms, although wool pools within states are becoming more common.

In some cases, wool is pooled in local areas and sold through wool warehouses. The pooling process allows for the marketing of increased wool quantities, sorting by quality and lowering of transactions costs. Most wool is marketed through wool buyers directly to central markets or to mills.

In the eastern United States, wool is typically marketed through wool warehouses or wool pools to compensate for limited production obtained from smaller flocks. Wool produced in the western United States is generally marketed through wool warehouses or wool cooperatives.

Processing

Wool has a variety of quality grades that are generally based on fiber diameter and fineness. Other quality factors include length, uniformity, strength, color and contaminants. Higher quality wool grades are used to produce apparel, but lower quality grades are used to produce blankets, carpet, felt and upholstery.

Prices

U.S. farm prices for shorn wool have varied widely over the past decade. The price of wool was $1.47 per pound in 2017 with a total value of $36.4 million. The production of high-value fine wools (25 microns or less) represents more than one-half of U.S. wool production (NASS, 2017).

Competition

U.S. wool supplies compete with coarser grade wools from New Zealand and finer wools from Australia. Australia is the largest supplier of apparel wool. Two-thirds of the wool sold on the world market originates from Australia. Major markets for Australian wool include China, Italy, India, Taiwan, Czech Republic, Slovak Republic, France and Germany.

New Zealand is the world’s second-largest wool producer and exporter. Most of its wool production (90%) is exported as fiber. New Zealand is the leading producer of coarse or strong wool used primarily for interior textiles such as carpets, blankets, upholstery and yarn. China accounts for about 25 percent of New Zealand’s wool exports. Other export markets include the United Kingdom, India, Italy and Australia.

Sources

National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), 2017

American Wool Market, American Sheep Industry Association.

Cotton and Wool Outlook, Economic Research Service (ERS), USDA.

Cotton and Wool Yearbook, ERS, USDA.

Global Agricultural Trade System (GATS), Foreign Ag Service (FAS), USDA.

How U.S. Wool Industry Works: Export Business has Changed, Wool Briefs, Sheep Industry News.

Sheep and Goats, National Agricultural Statistical Services, USDA.

Sheep and Goats: Frequently Asked Questions - ATTRA Sustainable Agriculture

Sheep and Wool: Overview, ERS, USDA.
 

Links checked September 2018.