The different grades of wool mean it has many uses, from the very soft fibres that can be worn against the skin, to the coarse fibres with uses like insulation and stuffing.
Around 80% of wool is used to make garment products (sweaters, clothes, coats, hats), blankets and carpets. Wool is also highly flame resistant and so is frequently used for mattress and rug manufacturing. Other products include water proofing outer garments and sound proofing applications, Musicians might be interested to know that the piano’s distinct sound (compared to a harpsichord, for example) is a result of wool. The wool fibre is used to muffle the impact of the hammers on the strings.
Products made from wool are durable, flexible and can keep their appearance for a longer period than other fabrics.
The wool market can be divided into three broad product segments based on mean fibre diameter:
- Fine wools (<19,5µ) are used in luxury products. Prices are rather volatile and poor quality (e.g. as a result of drought) suffers significant penalties on price. Fashion trends and consumer demand for soft, light products for next to the skin wear are and will remain the key drivers in this segment. The finer end of this segment competes with other products e.g. cashmere.
- Medium wools are usually in the 20-25µ category and are used essentially in the classical menswear, womenswear and knitwear product sectors. Probably the major offtake of wool in this product sector is in blends with synthetic fibres to target lower price points at retail, and in some cases to achieve certain technical effects. Prices in this category are particularly sensitive to competition from synthetics.
- Strong (coarse) wools (>26µ) are mainly used for interior textiles such as furnishings, carpets and bedding products.
Sources: Cape Wools SA; Wool Market Value Chain Profile; DALRRD-NAMC International TradeProbe, Issue No 55, January 2015.
International business environment
Find updates on www.capewools.co.za.
- The global price for apparel wool is determined in Australia, the world’s largest supplier of apparel wool, where the largest volumes of wool are traded. South Africa, with its small clip, is therefore a market follower or price taker.
- Top wool producing countries are Australia, China, USA, New Zealand and Argentina. Turkey, Iran, UK, India, Sudan and South Africa follow.
- South Africa is a full member of the International Wool Textile Organisation (IWTO). Visit the IWTO website – www.iwto.org. Find global information and statistics on the website.
South Africa: imports and exports
- Despite being a net importer of sheep meat, more than 90% of the wool produced in South Africa is exported.
- The wool sector has been a true success story within South African agriculture. In 2018, wool accounted for 4% of South Africa’s agricultural exports, ranked the largest exportable commodity after oranges, grapes, wine and apples (Sihlobo, 2019).
- Since then, matters have not been as positive. The FMD outbreak in 2019 meant that wool clips had to be stored at cost until exports could again be permitted. The 2020 season brought lockdown, delaying exports again after wool farming was not declared an essential agricultural commodity. That a mere 3% of the wool clip went to the domestic market after these setbacks is evidence of the lack of local processing capacity (BFAP, 2020).
- China represents the biggest market for South African wool exports. After Australia, South Africa is the second largest exporter into China.
- Other markets for the South African wool industry are China, the Czech Republic, Italy, India, Bulgaria, Germany, and the United States.
- The international economic slowdown, combined with Covid-19, will result in lower global wool prices despite lower production levels in Australia.
Source: Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy (BFAP) Baselines 2020-2029; Wool Farmer No 3, 2020; Sihlobo, W. 2019, February 26 (see "Websites & publications" heading). The Wool Market Value Chain Profile (see "Websites & publications" heading) also takes a close look at exports and imports.
South Africa has only about 30% capacity to process its own wool, and export is thus critical (ABSA, 2018).
Local business environment
Cape Wools SA supplies an SMS message service supplying market information directly after sales, as well as a weekly market report via e-mail. This information can also be found on its website, www.capewools.co.za.
- The sheep and wool industry is one of the oldest agricultural industries in South Africa. As a largely export commodity it plays an important economic role as an earner of foreign exchange for the country.
- Prior to 1994, the Cape Province was the most important wool producing area in Southern Africa. “Cape Wool” became the international generic trade term for all wool produced on the sub-continent. Today, the main production areas are in the Eastern Cape and Free State. Other high producing provinces are the Western Cape, Northern Cape, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal. Find the latest production statistics on www.capewools.co.za which sets out wool production per province and magisterial district.
- Some 15 million sheep are farmed for their wool in South Africa, with emerging- and communal farmers accounting for 4 million of these. There are 6 000 commercial producers and some 40 000 emerging- and communal ones, the latter being responsible for 13% of the national wool clip. Some 35 000 workers are employed by this industry, an important one for the stability of rural areas and the rural economy (NWGA, 2020).
- The main sheep breeds used for wool production are the pure-bred Merino followed by other dual-purpose Merino strains (Dohne Merino, South African Mutton Merino and the Letelle). Merino farmers earn about two-thirds of their income from meat, but a high wool price improves their profitability (ABSA, 2018).
- Cape wools are traded either through the auction system or by private treaty. The largest percentage of the clip is sold through the auction system. Auctions have been centralised in Port Elizabeth and take place once a week during the season (August to June). Even though centrally auctioned, wools are warehoused in three of the four ports: Port Elizabeth, Cape Town and Durban.
- Prices paid for Cape wools are determined by free market supply and demand forces and are closely linked to the international price for apparel wool, which is determined by the Australian market.
- Most of the clip is marketed overseas through members of SAWAMBA. Only registered members of that organisation are allowed to bid at auctions held under the auspices of the South African Wool Exchange.
Source: Cape Wools marketing brochure available on www.capewools.co.za ; ABSA Agricultural Outlook 2018 Spring Edition; and the Wool Market Value Chain Profile.
Pointers from BFAP Baseline 2020-2029
- It projects that the pandemic-linked slowdown period is followed by strong international prices, which are expected to support faster growth in the total value of wool exports up to 2029.
- Production will increase, though at a marginally slower rate than the past decade, owing amongst others to challenges related to livestock theft and predation.
- Considerable potential for wool production expansion exists especially in parts of Mpumalanga as well as communal areas in the Eastern Cape, where genetic improvement, shearing house facilities and traceability systems to prove adherence to Responsible Wool Standards could result in more poor farmers earning income priced in foreign currency.
Find the document at www.bfap.co.za.
Small-scale farmer news
- Around half of the sheep in the Eastern Cape have always come from the former homeland (communal) regions. Unfortunately, people in these areas received very little for their wool. The National Wool Growers Association (NWGA) Woolled Sheep Development Programme aims to ensure sustainable economic wool sheep farming. Within the communal sector, the NWGA focuses on: (1) Infrastructure (2) Training and Mentorship (3) Genetic Improvement of flocks (4) Marketing support (5) Resource management.
- The result of this interaction since 1997/98 on the wool income of some 40 000 individual small-scale producers in the Eastern Cape is evident. Some four million sheep are shorn annually, producing at least eight million kilograms of wool, 13% of the national wool stock (NWGA, 2020). The NAMC has previously valued this at about R383 607 431 (NAMC, 2019).
- Details of production advisors operating in communal areas are available from the NWGA (details under “Associations involved” heading).
National strategy and government contact
Find contact details and information on the different directorates of the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) at www.dalrrd.gov.za.
National Agricultural Marketing Council (NAMC) Tel: 012 341 1115 www.namc.co.za Cape Wools SA administers the proceeds from a levy laid down in terms of the Marketing of Agricultural Products Act, 47 of 1996. Each broker, trader, processor, importer and exporter of wool has to register and furnish records and returns to Cape Wools SA. The purpose and aims of this is to compel parties to keep records and render returns, to ensure that continuous, timely and accurate information relating to the products is available to all role players. Market information is deemed essential to make informed decisions. Read about the Wool Trust on the website.
Incorrect shearing of sheep, whereby, animals sustain unnecessary injuries will be deemed as contraventions of the Animals Protection Act, 71 of 1962. Shearers must undergo training, which must include an animal welfare curriculum and be competent to shear sheep efficiently. See http://sasheepshear.co.za for trainers. See also “Training & research” heading below.
- Cape Wools SA Tel: 041 484 4301 www.capewools.co.za
The South African wool industry was restructured in 1997 to comply with the regulations of the Marketing of Agricultural Products Act, 47 of 1996. The first step was to establish a Wool Forum representing the various affected groups in the industry. The Forum meets biannually and its representatives carry their own expenses.
Cape Wools SA is a non-profit organisation established by the Forum as its executive arm. Its directors proportionately represent these groups and they are elected from the Wool Forum. Cape Wools reports to the Forum regarding its activities. To minimise overhead costs and to make maximum funds available for services and functions required by the industry, Cape Wools operates with a small staff complement of five and outsources certain of the functions but accepts full responsibility for the planning and management of all functions.
The company started operating in 1997. It has been granted statutory measures for the collection of statistics (records and returns) for the wool industry, which enables it to create a wool statistics data bank from which a national market indicator and other information regarding the industry can be made available locally, as well as internationally.
- Wool Testing Bureau of South Africa Tel: 041 503 6600 www.wtbsa.co.za WTB is a test house accredited with the International Wool Textile Organisation. It’s responsible for all independent objective measurement testing services to the trade.
- South African Wool and Mohair Buyers’ Association (SAWAMBA) Tel: 041 484 5252 SAWAMBA represents the wool buying industry in South Africa. Most of the companies belonging to it have a significant shareholding in local early stage scouring and combing facilities, or are associated with international wool trading houses.
- South African Wool and Mohair Exchange Tel: 041 484 5252
- South African Wool and Mohair Processors’ Association Tel: 041 484 5252
- Wool Textile Council Tel: 041 484 5252 The South African National Committee representing the buying, processing and exporting industry on the International Wool Textile Organisation (IWTO).
- The Wool Trust Tel: 041 484 4307 The Wool Trust was established in 1997 in terms of the Marketing of Agricultural Products Act of 1996. See note under the NAMC, previous heading.
- South African Textile Industry Export Council Tel: 021 959 4162
- National Wool Growers Association SA (NWGA) Tel: 041 365 5030 www.nwga.co.za
The production and advisory and training services are outsourced from Cape Wools SA to the National Woolgrowers’ Association (NWGA). The main aim of these services is to assist producers to increase production efficiency and profitability in order to maximise income. It involves the transfer of production technology and research results. It also includes development and training with the emphasis on farmers who previously did not have access to such services. The largest share of this budget is earmarked for the upliftment of small-scale or developing producers, mainly in the old Ciskei and Transkei regions of the Eastern Cape, Free State and Mpumalanga. In 1997, a wool development programme was launched in the Eastern Cape. The main focus was improving the quality and quantity of the wool produced in the rural areas. NWGA members are kept abreast of current news and trends in the wool industry through the monthly Wool Farmer newspaper, sent to them free of charge.
For the different breeder associations, see the “Animal Improvement & Breeders” page.
- South African Sheepdog Association www.sasda.za.net The SA Sheepdog Association’s main objective is to introduce farmers and other interested people to sheepdogs as labour saving force. This is done through demonstrations and courses, as well as competitions, where breeding success is tested and the best breeding material selected according to working ability.
- Clotex www.clotex.co.za Contact this clothing and textile service centre through the website.
- South African Topmakers’ Association Tel: 041 484 5252
Training and research
- Courses at all universities/universities of technology offering agricultural degrees/diplomas cover small stock production (see the “Agricultural education and training” page). Two examples are: University of the Free State, Department Animal, Wildlife and Grassland Sciences, Prof JB van Wyk Tel: 051 401 2677 www.ufs.ac.za (2) Central University of Technology, Department of Agriculture Tel: 051 507 4051 www.cut.ac.za Short courses are also offered at the above two institutions.
- The Agricultural Colleges cover small stock production in their diploma courses. For the full list, consult the “Agricultural education and training” page. Examples are: (1) Glen College Tel: 051 861 8500 (2) Grootfontein Agricultural Development Institute (GADI) Tel: 049 842 1113 http://gadi.agric.za (3) Dohne Agricultural Development Institute (DADI) Tel: 043 683 1240. The Provincial Departments of Agriculture, working closely with the Agricultural colleges, offer short courses.
- AgriSETA accredited training. The following are some of these providers: (1) National Wool Growers Association (NWGA) Tel: 041 365 5030 www.nwga.co.za For the farmer, the NWGA runs courses like reproduction, predation, stock theft crime scene and clip fault reports. It also runs study groups and conducts tours to visit successful farmers. For farm workers, it runs basic animal health, animal nutrition, basic breeding, shearing shed management and money management courses.(2) Skills for Africa Tel: 012 377 3248 www.skillsafrica.co.za (3) Find additional training providers at www.agriseta.co.za.
- Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) Fibres and Textiles Industrial Support Tel: 041 508 3223 / 89 afbotha [at] csir.co.za www.csir.co.za
- South African Sheep Shearing Federation Tel: 051 447 3023/4 http://sasheepshear.co.za Sheep shearer training
Find the directory on www.capewools.co.za for a complete list of wool buyers, processors, exporters, traders and brokers.
- A Dewavrin Freres Tel: 041 484 4443
- Beier Finance (Pty) Ltd Tel: 041 319 0222
- Chargeurs Wool (SA) (Pty) Ltd Tel: 041 581 0081
- Fibres International Tel: 041 503 3431
- Lempriere SA http://lemprierewool.com
- Modiano SA (Pty) Ltd Tel: 041 484 6545/6
- New England Wool (SA) Tel: 041 360 6788
- Segard Masurel SA (Pty) Ltd Tel: 041 451 0481 www.segardmasurel.com
- SA Wool Exporters (Pty) Ltd Tel/fax: 041 365 4620
- Standard Wool Tel: 041 487 0610
- Stucken Group South Africa Tel: 041 397 4700 www.stucken.co.za
- Beier Finance (Pty) Ltd Tel: 041 319 0222
- Cape of Good Hope Wool Combers (Pty) Limited Tel: 041 992 3412
- Gubb & Inggs Limited Tel: 041 994 7500 www.stucken.co.za
- Nouwens Carpets Tel: 058 622 1101 www.nouwens.co.za Details of offices in Gauteng, Durban and Cape Town can be found on the website
Wool Traders And Brokers
- BKB Ltd Tel: 041 503 3302 www.bkb.co.za
- Bruce, Lappersonne & Saunders Tel: 041 451 1201
- Cape Mohair and Wool (CMW) Tel: 041 406 7500 406 7500 www.cmw.co.za
- Junior Steenkamp Wool & Mohair Tel: 041 451 1104
- Lanata (Pty) Limited Wool/Mohair Tel: 041 922 1419
- Van Lill Woolbuyers Trust Tel: 041 486 1237
Sheep farming equipment
Websites and publications
See the websites listed earlier on this page.
- The Best practice reference manual for wool sheep farming in South Africa is available in English and in Afrikaans, on both www.capewools.co.za and www.nwga.co.za. It has notes on Management practices for sheep (dipping, lambing, ear marking etc); infrastructure for sheep; sheep handling strategy; health and disease management strategy; sheep feeding strategy; transport of sheep. In the environment section, the notes cover rangeland (soil, water, invasive alien plants), alternative fodder crops, drought, fire management and waste control; predation management; pesticides for the control of ectoparasites. The social responsibility section covers labour relations, skills development, HIV/AIDS. The section called shearers covers working hours and what suitable facilities should be.
- Find a number of articles, books and videos at www.nwga.co.za (under “Farmer development”). Also contact the NWGA for the publication International Sheep and Wool Handbook. Although aimed at university students, it is also highly recommended reading for anyone involved in the wool industry.
- Find the NWGA YouTube video “Woolled Sheep Development Programme – how to get involved” at www.youtube.com/watch?v=OlZms8FwQR0
- The Sheep Shearer Instruction Manual is available from the NWGA Shearer Training Division, PO Box 4520, Bloemfontein 9300.
- An educational DVD of the wool value chain was produced by Cape Wools SA and the NWGA. Find their contact details under the “Associations involved” heading.
- Find the latest annual publication South African Wool Market Value Chain on www.dalrrd.gov.za. It can be found on the Directorate Marketing’s web pages on the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) website.
- Also available from DALRRD are the Agricultural Marketing Extension Training Papers. The first part of the 8th in the series looks at the marketing of wool. Find the document under “Resource centre” and “General publications” at www.dalrrd.gov.za.
- Downloads on the GADI website – http://gadi.agric.za/ – include useful management charts and tools for working out measurements e.g. how many ewes can you keep? The latest research report also has numerous articles of relevance.
- The Shepherd Manual by Dr JJ Olivier is part of a computer recording programme for sheep and goats. Read more at http://gadi.agric.za/software/shepherd/shepherd.php.
- The DALRRD-NAMC TradeProbe 78 (August 2019) includes the article “Monitoring South Africa’s wool performance in Africa”. Find the document at www.namc.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Trade-Probe-Issue-78_final.pdf
- Find the latest issue of Wool Farmer / Wolboer at www.agriconnect.co.za.
- Find the Nation in Conversation overview of the sheep industry (Jan 2017) on YouTube www.youtube.com/watch?v=GX43LXJnjzo
- The agricultural weeklies Landbouweekblad and Farmer’s Weekly frequently cover stories of interest to the wool producer (and processor). Find archived articles at www.landbou.com and www.farmersweekly.co.za.
- Find the general sheep publications in the “Mutton (sheep)” article, under the “Websites and publications” heading.
- Van der Walt T. 2020, November 2. “7 natural fibres to consider if you want go green with your wardrobe”. IOL. Available at www.iol.co.za/lifestyle/green-living/7-natural-fibres-to-consider-if-you-want-go-green-with-your-wardrobe-cb34dd65-5d7a-4f56-bc8b-df069b63c552
- Reporter. 2020, August 30. “Profitable small-scale sheep farming”. Farmer’s Weekly. Available at www.farmersweekly.co.za/farm-basics/how-to-livestock/profitable-small-scale-sheep-farming/
- Coleman A. 2020, April 16. “Shearing and wool exports now allowed during lockdown”. Farmer’s Weekly. Available at www.farmersweekly.co.za/agri-news/south-africa/shearing-and-wool-exports-now-allowed-during-lockdown/
- Sihlobo W. 2019, September 11. “These are challenging times for the global wool industry”. Available at https://wandilesihlobo.com/2019/09/11/these-are-challenging-times-for-the-global-wool-industry
- ANA Reporter. 2019, May 13. “Agri SA, government cooperate to lift ban on wool, animal exports to China”. Business Report. Available at www.iol.co.za/business-report/economy/agri-sa-government-cooperate-to-lift-ban-on-wool-animal-exports-to-china-23150322
- Sihlobo, W. 2019, April 25. “Time to diversify SA wool export market”. Available at https://wandilesihlobo.com/2019/04/25/time-to-diversify-sa-wool-export-market/
- Sihlobo, W. 2019, February 26. “Wandile Sihlobo: Future outlook woolly for key SA commodity”. Fin24. Available at www.fin24.com/Opinion/wandile-sihlobo-future-outlook-woolly-for-key-sa-commodity-20190226-2
- Bofulo Trust Wool Wool Sheep Project: In July 2016 a shearing facility was opened in the Thaba Nchu area for ten beneficiaries who were already sheep farmers. Find stories on the internet like “Free State sheep farmers receive shearing facility” and “Free State communal farmers handed sheep shearing facility”.
Share this article