What is Organic Wool?
The Merino Sheep is descended from a strain developed during the rein of Claudius, 41 A.D. During the Dark Ages the Merino dwindled in the numbers but were revived by the Spaniards during the 18th Century. In 1809 William Jarvis took advantage of the chaos surrounding the Napoleonic Conquests and brought a herd to Vermont. Merinos had been well-established in The United States and Australia since the mid-19th Century. Australia invested money and research to raise organic Merinos with finer fibers.
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
• Use of synthetic hormones and genetic engineering is prohibited;
• Use of synthetic pesticides (internal. external. and on pastures) is prohibited, and
• 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:
•Sheep cannot be dipped in insecticides to control external parasites such as ticks and lice, and
•Organic livestock producers are required to ensure that they do not exceed the natural carrying capacity of the land on which their animals graze.
Third-party certification organizations verify that organic producers use only methods and materials allowed in organic production. The Organic Trade Association has developed standards that apply to the processing of organic wool. Why does organic wool cost more than conventional wool?
The cost of organic wool is more than that of conventional for several reasons:
•Organic wool producers receive a higher price at a farm gate as their costs of production are higher, primarily associated with higher labor, management, and certification costs
•The organic wool industry is very small relative to the overall wool industry and does not have the economies of scale and resulting efficiencies of its conventional counterpart, and
•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.