Results of the panel discussion: challenging Finnish wool production

Challenging Finnish wool production

In Finland, sheep are used in landscaping during the summer. Winters sheep spend inside the animal shelters

Wool production in Finland is challenging. Finnish wool has good properties and is produced sustainable, but it is not profitable for sheep farmers. Spinning mills currently pay the producer so little compensation for raw wool that it does not necessarily cover even the costs of cutting the wool of the sheep, let alone the sorting costs of wool. With a view to further processing of wool, production should be developed in terms of sheep breeding, feeding and care, as well as in terms of barns conditions, wool sorting and logistics. If the raw wool were of high quality, clean and properly sorted, the spinning mills could also cost a better price for the sheep farmers.

We started the discussion of these starting points in a panel discussion organized by the RDI2CluB project managed by the Institute of Bioeconomy at JAMK University of Applied Sciences on Tuesday, September 15, 2020 in BioPaavo in Saarijärvi. The panel was attended by sheep farmers Pia Niemeläinen from the Niemelä sheep farm and Maija Suutarinen from the Hakamaa sheep farm, logistics lecturer Ilkka Suur-Uski from JAMK University of Applied Sciences, sheep and goat production expert Milla Alanco-Ollqvist from ProAgria and entrepreneur Eeva Piesala from Piiku. Annemari Sinikorpi from the Institute of Bioeconomy at JAMK University of Applied Sciences was the moderator of the panel discussion.

Finnsheep wool should be better branded

The wool of Finland’s most common sheep, Finnsheep, is high-quality and good handicraft wool with many opportunities in the world. Despite its good properties, Finnish sheep wool is not very well known in the world, and there would be a need for its brand. Although Finnsheep’s wool is usually almost as high quality as merino wool, its small amount compared to merino makes branding difficult. the discussion revealed question that which organization should do the branding. Based on the discussion, it was concluded that it shouldn’t be the responsibility of the wool producer.

The small amount of Finnish wool also means that it cannot compete on price in the world. In small volumes, sales and branding should be based more on individual production sold through storytelling and utilizes domestic strengths. The Finnish wool brand must therefore emphasize its ecology, the pure nature of Finland and the ethics of the wool chain.

The quality of the wool matters

The quality of the wool plays a key role when looking at profitability. Clean, the right length and properly sorted wool makes wool processing easier and faster. The quality is greatly influenced by the conditions in which the animals are kept, such as the drying of the pens, the humidity of the barns indoor air and the vegetation of the pastures. Feeding and arranging it can have a big impact on the quality of wool. It is worth noting that the most efficient and practical feeding method is often not the best option for wool quality. Processing and producing good wool are a long-term task that must be considered throughout the whole life cycle of a sheep.

Besides of the conditions of barns and care, also the sheep breed, breeding and production stage affect the wool quality. As a matter a fact every point of a sheep’s life affected wool and it’s quality. The cutting and its timing are also important. By timing the cut, the length of the wool is made as desired, but it can also affect the cleanliness of the wool. After cutting, the raw wool should be sorted, stored and packed correctly.

It is already possible to utilize first class wool quite well in Finland, but the potential for productization of second-class wool was highlighted in the discussion. However, wool that is not suitable for handicraft use can be used, for example, as a soil improver, insulation material, filling for blankets or in the care of horses’ feet. Except for the dirtiest wools, almost all wool is suitable for some purpose and should be better utilized.

The vegetation of the pasture can affect the quality of the wool

If there isn’t logistics there isn’t products

Whatever the quality of the wool is, it should be sent for processing soon after cutting and sorting. Transporting the wool to the spinning mill is one of the most expensive point in the entire wool chain. In addition to the kilometers traveled, transport costs are also affected by the weight and volume of the cargo. Wool is lightweight raw material, so weight often does not pose problems in logistics. The volume can be influenced by tightly packing the wool, for example with a wool press, whereby the volume of the package can be minimized. From a logistics point of view, wool is a good product to transport, because more often the limiting factor in freight is weight, so wool could fill the free transport capacity without exceeding the weight limits.

There would be much room for improvement in farm logistics in Finland. Often, wools would be transport by the return loads of trucks if driven organizer would know when, what, how much, and where it should be transported. Logistics was found to be not only the transfer of goods but also the transfer of information, and it is precisely that information that should be made to flow better between the various parties. The lack of a unified system was perceived as a problem for data transfer. An efficient operation would require an information system that would transfer the information on outgoing batches of wool would be made available to transport operators. In that way driven organizer could take the wools into account in their route planning.

From the perspective of an individual farm it would be worthwhile to pack the wool to transport at the same truck that brings other goods, such as feed loads, arrive at the farm. In this case, the wool load would go from the farm to the terminal, where it would be easier to arrange its onward transport to the right destination. This would increase the efficiency of both, the animal farm and the transport companies. However, the operation would require agreements between different actors.

Logistics is used to deliver cargo to and from farms. To increase the efficiency of the wool chain, an integrated information system is needed to inform transport companies about cargo leaving farms

A bigger role for the spinning mills?

The debate also raised the idea that spinning mills would take over the collection of wools, making operations more systematic. Through the spinning mills, the information would transfer to transport operators, which could plan their routes according to their needs. The activity could also combine common wool sorting or packing points, where farmers could bring their wool for packing. With the points, the wool would be pressed into tight packaging, thus would minimize the need for space. This function requires some author to perform it. It remained unclear what would be the right author for this.

The collection of wool was also proposed to be arranged by the spinning mills. The spinning mills could sell a service where a person they hired would go around the farms cutting, sorting, packing and picking up the wool. However, cutting is seasonal and this would require more than one or two teams to operate. However, the operation would be good option for those farms which use cutting services.

The capacity of Finnish spinning mills also sparked debate. There are several spinning mills in Finland, but still the sheep farmers must wait a long time to get their wool spun. The discussion highlighted the efficiency of the operation of the spinning mills. Could the spinning mills improve their efficiency? If a new spinning mill is planned, the activity could be identified for a different purpose than the production of traditional yarn. It was generally hoped that unused spinning mills machines would be better placed on the market to be put into service if they are not currently in use.

Profitably would rise with better quality and cooperation

The branding of Finnish wool should be increased and co-operation in its production should be improved. Cooperation would require good communication and information flow in order to work. With a better flow of information and a smooth co-operation, Finnish wool and wool products could be exported to the world where good markets were seen. In Finland, almost everyone knows how to make handicrafts, so their appreciation is not in the same category as abroad. The purity of Finnish nature, northern exotics, the ecology of wool products, the ethics of the production chain and the traceability of wool should be utilized in marketing.

Cooperation would require some author to organize activities and the flow of information. Cooperation should also be cross-professional, so that the strengths of different sectors could be harnessed for the use of the wool chain. When considering the profitability of Finnish wool, all factors should consider. For example, support policy with animal welfare compensation, can improve the profitability of wool. It must also be remembered that poor quality wool is not well compensated. When wool is made of better quality, its demand increases, and the price paid for it is higher. It is therefore hoped that the authors of wool chain will have open minds, big and maybe even crazy ideas and cooperation, as well as the courage to go beyond Finland’s borders.

Finnish wool should be branded through exotic and diverse nature

Have you heard of Finnsheep wool and its properties?
Has your country managed to brand domestic wool?
How have you organized the logistics between the sheep farms and the spinning mills?
Are there integrated information systems in your country that allow logistics companies to obtain information directly from the farm?

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