Farmer burns 800 fleeces after Covid made wool ‘worthless’

A Welsh farmer torched hundreds of ‘worthless’ sheep fleeces in protest at rock-bottom wool prices after the pandemic saw the market for the natural material sink to ‘diabolical’ lows. 

He piled up 800 fleeces from newly-shorn sheep and turned them into a funeral pyre saying it was cheaper to destroy them by fire than to go to the effort and expense of selling them.

Claiming he and other farmers are being fleeced, he set light to the woolly mountain because it was worth ‘peanuts’ to him.

He is the not the first wool producer to make a stand this year after prices collapsed during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In June, Anglesey farmer Gerallt Hughes threw fleeces from nearly 600 sheep on to a compost pile because it would have cost him more to sell them.

He faced spending 30p to pack a fleece only to get 24p back for it if and when he could find a buyer.

Other despairing sheep farmers have used fleeces as animal bedding, given them away to gardeners as a weed suppressant – or simpy left them to rot in fields.

Other farmers have pledged to followed suit despite criticism from those who want to see wool put to constructive use.

The UK produces nearly 22,000 tons of wool every year from about 45,000 farmers who tend more than 32 million sheep – one for every two people.

Shearing is principally done for the welfare of the animal and must be carried out annually, costing up to £2 per sheep.

Around 10,000 tons of wool are sitting unsold in depots across the UK following the shutdown in the global market caused by coronavirus, which hit after decades of falling prices.

John Royle, of the National Farmers’ Union, said: ‘Back in the day, people used to say that shearing almost paid the farm rent but those days are gone.

‘For some hill breeds you’re getting less than 10p per fleece when it’s costing nearly £1 to shear it. It’s costing a lot more to shear the sheep than you get back from the wool, which seems a real shame when you have got potentially such a great product.’

Farmer David Jones, from Shropshire, opted not to sell his fleeces this year after receiving £700 for five tons of wool in 2019 – despite £2,500 shearing costs.

‘It just wasn’t feasible really. There’s more value to turn them into organic fertiliser rather than pay extra labour to pack, handle and transport the wool.’