Baa-cked up: Sheep wool surplus, lack of buyers weigh on Island farmers


Vancouver Island sheep farmers are dealing with too much wool.

Their sheep have to be sheared, but they don’t have enough purchasers willing to buy the wool.

“It’s not the value it used to have,” says John Buchanan, who has owned and operated Parry Bay Farms for the last 50 years. “When I started [a fleece] was worth a day’s work. Now it’s worth about five minutes.”

Prices for wool have fallen dramatically over the years, with mass-produced synthetic fibers cheaper and easier to work with.

“When we started doing sheep, the white wool was a dollar a pound and the black wool was two dollars a pound because we sold it to Cowichan Tribes to make their sweaters,” said Lorraine.

Metchosin sheep farmer John Buchanan stands in front of a flock of his sheep to discuss a wool surplusMetchosin sheep farmer John Buchanan discusses a surplus of wool that has some producers burning the product because it’s cheaper than selling it. Jan. 24, 2023.

But prices have fallen dramatically in recent years. According to Statistics Canada, the average price paid to Canadian wool producers just eight years ago was $1.54 per kilogram, on average, and even higher in B.C. at $2.04/kg.

Since then, prices have fallen to $0.69/kg nationally and $0.63/kg provincially.

In Canada, middle-sized farmers like the Buchanan’s at Parry Bay Farm say it doesn’t pay to get the wool off the sheep’s back.

“There are years we’ve had to burn it because it costs too much to bring it to Vancouver,” said Lorraine.

Cleaning and spinning raw wool is labor-intensive and expensive. In 2019, the worldwide wool industry was already in decline, but worsened with the pandemic. Wool prices collapsed leading to a global oversupply, which caused prices to plummet almost by half.

According to Statistics Canada, the average price paid to Canadian wool producers just eight years ago was $1.54 per kilogram, on average, and even higher in B.C. at $2.04/kg.

In 2020, prices plummeted to $0.69/kg nationally and $0.63/kg provincially.

Wool Price Trends 2015-2020

2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
$1.54 $1.38 $1.12 $1.09 $0.88 $0.69
2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
$2.04 $1.24 $1.65 $1.24 $0.68 $0.63

Prices in CAD per kg. Source: StatsCan

“There’s really a stockpile of wool right now. So they’re not buying much,” said Lorraine.

Then politics got in the way, with Canada’s arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.

“China put embargoes and they weren’t buying wool anymore and they’re still not buying wool and that was the major market,” said John. “We used to get 50 cents a pound which is still insignificant. Now it’s 25 cents a year which isn’t worth it.”

To make matters worse the only local wool mill on Vancouver Island shut down, leaving the nearest mill to handle the amount of wool Parry Bay produces in Alberta.

“Trucking it there is not worth it,” said Lorraine.

So right now, the Parry Bay Farm is left with an excess of wool. They do, however, have a glimmer of hope for a new use of the sustainable material.

“One sort of promising thing is that there’s a mill in the interior that is pelletizing it for fertilizer,” said Lorraine.

For John, sheep farming has been his passion for the past 50 years and he would like to see the tradition live on.

“I would like to see it continue in Metchosin. It’s kinda cool, it’s part of Metchosin’s identity now.”

Kori SidawayKori Sidaway

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