CANAL WINCHESTER, Ohio — With an eye on history and the other on the future, the Mid-States Wool Growers Cooperative Association is striving to bring the best prices to consumers.
The Mid-States Wool Growers Association started out as the Tri-State Wool Growers in 1918. In the midst of World War I, sheep producers, looking for something to help them get the best price possible for their wool, organized the Tri-State Wool Growers. More than 2 million pounds of wool were pooled and marketed by members the next year, in 1919.
The co-op purchased a warehouse in Columbus in 1921, and by 1956, the group, now known as the Ohio Wool Growers Cooperative Association, were part of a wool warehouse pool that controlled the largest volume of wool marketing in the U.S.
In 1974, the Ohio Wool Growers Cooperative and the Midwest Wool Marketing Cooperative, which was organized in 1931 in Kansas City, Kan., merged into a new organization and called it Mid-States Wool Growers Cooperative.
Today, the farmer-member leadership remains strong in the Mid-States Wool Growers Cooperative Association.
Mid-States Wool Growers Association General Manager Dave Rowe said the cooperative gives sheep producers many benefits besides the best price possible for their wool. They also provide feedback for the wool produced by grading it so producers can figure out how to improve it.
Rowe said the cooperative is trying to do business with the farmer in mind at all times.
“We grade every fleece. So we pay you based on what you have and not just what is in the bag,” said Rowe.
By grading the fleece, a producer can gain an idea of where his fleece stands compared to others. This gives them the opportunity to make breeding decisions to move from where the flock’s wool quality stands to where a producer wants it to go, or to improve other management practices to improve fleece quality.
Rowe said one thing the cooperative has found is Midwestern sheep producers tend to raise the kind of sheep they prefer and not always what gets the best wool price.
For example, if some producers have a history with black face sheep, then they stick with black sheep even thought that may mean a good price for the meat but a lower price for the wool.
There can be ups and downs for sheep farmers, but it all depends on what market they are producing for.
In the eastern states, many producers are striving to produce white wool, which means a finer grade of wool.
“The better the quality, the better the price,” said Rowe.
He added that the Merino fleece is where the market price starts, but each individual fleece is checked by the Mid-States Wool Growers Cooperative Association.
Rowe said wool with a dark fiber in them is not usually going to achieve a high price. However, in a niche market or by selling it at a sheep and wool festival or other direct marketing avenues, a customer base can be developed.
“This is a totally different world from the warehouse sales,” said Rowe.
Rowe said new growers are needed in the wool markets. He said the sheep industry has been contracting in recent years and now it is necessary to attract new growers.
“It’s something someone without a lot of agriculture experience can get into. Sheep are easy to maintain and fences can be easily kept,” said Rowe.
Sheep farmers are seeing higher prices, compared to 10 or 15 years ago. In fact, prior to 2012, they were enjoying some of the highest wool prices in many years.
However, the market has decreased in 2012 because of the economic troubles in the Greece market place and the European market. Rowe said even the Australian market, which is the largest wool grower in the world, has pulled back.
Rowe was clear to point out that prices are still better than they have been in recent years but not as good as producers saw in 2011