|Wool Packaging - Getting Wool Out of the Bag
By BOB PADULA
Wool Quality Consultant, American Wool Council
(January 1, 2006) Often times it’s the little things that count, and wool packaging is one of those over-looked areas of wool-quality improvement. Baling or pressing wool at shearing time will not solve all the problems for the U.S. wool industry, but it is an important part of improving the quality and reputation of the U.S. wool clip. For U.S. wool to compete on the international level, wool must be in a form that is acceptable to international customers.
Baling wool is not recommended for growers with small wool clips or those clips that are going to be regraded at a warehouse. It is much easier to rehandle and grade fleeces from wool bags, compared to wool that has been hydraulically pressed into a bale. For many smaller growers – packaging wool in bags at shearing will not change. The basic concepts in this article apply to small growers that bag their wool.
While some still want to debate the issue of wool packaging, the issue has been settled – baled wool in nylon packs is preferred. Wool bales are the ideal method of packaging wool because freight efficiency can be maximized, nylon packs reduce contamination, the bales are easy to handle and store in the warehouse and they are easier to sample for objective measurement.
For fine wool, nylon packs are becoming increasingly important because mills do not want contamination from jute or burlap wool bags. Unfortunately, some of the most valuable wool in the United States is being packaged in a form that limits its marketability. Many international customers do not want jute wool bags because they are not set up to handle them, nor do they carbonize to remove vegetable matter from the jute or burlap wool bag. This wool must be repackaged, which is a cost the grower bears, and the potential for contamination is not reduced – only ‘hidden.’
Growers may not realize it, but many buyers have an automatic discount for wool that is not in bales. In the past, some buyers indicated they would pay a ‘premium’ for wool that is baled, but as more ranchers bale their wool at shearing time, it is now expected. If the wool is not baled, the premium prices are not even considered or offered.
The following issues have been mentioned as problem areas regarding wool baling. Not all bales or lots of wool have these challenges, but in the past year, warehouses and buyers have expressed enough concern over these issues for the discussion below.
Proper Labeling and Record Keeping
There needs to be a combined effort by growers, shearing crews and warehouses towards standardized labeling of wool packs. Most of the challenges and problems can be easily overcome with better planning and more attention to detail for labeling and record keeping at the time of baling. The Code of Practice for Preparation of U.S. Wool Clips and the American Sheep Industry Association’s (ASI) Web site (www.sheepusa.org) contains information on standardized labeling.
Bales need to be labeled in two locations – a side and a top flap. Standardized labeling includes labeling every bale of wool to indicate the grower name, line of wool and bale number. Wool that has been classed should have the classer number listed above the grower name. Bales should be labeled in small, neat letters on one flat side of the bale and the bale number and line on the outside flap. Nylon bales can be labeled with permanent markers or stenciled.
When bales are not labeled in this manner, it creates identification problems at the warehouse. Warehouses can stack the bales with the labeled side facing outward in the warehouse for easy identification.
Also, by not writing on the bottom of the bale, the warehouse and buyer can put their codes in that location after the wool has been core sampled – which results in fewer identification problems. If the grower puts their information on the bottom of the bale, the markings can be damaged by the core-sampling process.
A written record of the wool produced – listed by the individual, consecutive bale number – should be maintained by the grower. This list should also contain the contents of every bale and a summary, which includes the number of bales in each line of wool.
One of the most frequent complaints from warehouses is that they don’t know what is in the bale or how many bales there are of a particular wool type. Every warehouse has commented on the lack of information from the grower and would like to have at least a copy of the wool press record.
New vs. Used Packs
The bottom line is that new, nylon wool packs are preferred. Used or recycled packs are initially less expensive and readily available, but there are problems and hidden issues and/or costs that need to be brought to the attention of the grower.
There is nothing more frustrating than having to repackage wool during shearing because a pack bursts during pressing. To overcome the bursting problem, used-pack bales are pressed to lower weights. Instead of 400 pounds to 450 pounds, used-pack bales are 20-percent to 25-percent lower in weight (up to 100 pounds less), creating shipping and handling inefficiencies. It is not uncommon for it to cost more than $10 per bale in additional shipping charges because bales are lightweight. New packs are stronger and more wool can be consistently pressed into a bale – creating more shipping efficiency.
There have also been many identification and labeling problems with used packs in both domestic and international shipments.
Used packs do not maintain their shape and if washed the non-slip surface of a new pack is gone. Because they are not as dense, used-pack bales do not stack or store as easily. Light-weight bales create a real safety issue at the warehouse resulting in stacks of bales falling over.
New packs present an image to potential buyers that a producer takes pride and cares about their wool clip. If one desires premium prices for their wool, it needs to look like it is a premium product. Recently, a seller showed some international buyers wool in his warehouse and the buyers would not even look or consider the wool in the used packs.
Size and Weight Does Matter
Weight restrictions on U.S. roads create some challenges for shipping and exporting U.S. wool. Getting as close to the legal load-limit weight is one way to be more efficient and reduce transportation costs.
Under-weight bales are a shipping inefficiency and storage problem. However, over-weight, or more importantly, over-size bales are also a problem for the warehouse and wool marketing system. At this time, over-weight bales are not posing a severe problem in the United States as long as they are not over length. There are no real advantages for having wool bales in excess of 500 pounds as both weight and space limitations combine for shipping efficiency.
Over-length bales or bales that are not closed properly are longer in length and do not fit into containers or trucks for shipping. Bales should not be pressed so that they are longer than 1.25 meters, or roughly 48 inches.
All wool packs need to be closed with eight bale clips. Four clips for the inner two flaps and four bale clips for the last two, outside flaps. There should be no exposed wool on the top of the bale and the bales should be pressed in a manner so that the top is flat and not rounded.
Split Packs or Bales
Warehouses and buyers understand why it happens – to save on packaging cost – but they do not want different types of wool in bales. Ideally, at least 400 pounds of wool that is all the same needs to be in that bale; that is a minimum of 50, eight-pound fleeces that are all the same. The recommendation is one bale, one type of wool.
A real and frequent problem is when these split bales are not identified and the split bale is sold. Imagine the surprise of the buyer to find out they paid fleece-wool prices for half a bale of tags – or 10 black or black-face fleeces in a bale of fine-white wool.
Even when split bales are identified and steps are taken to remove them from the system, split bales create logistical problems for the warehouse. The bales have to be opened, the two or more different wool types weighed individually and the warehouse has to find a spot for that loose wool. During the rush of the wool season, handling split packs can slow processes down.
Warehouses realize every producer is going to have a small amount of wool left over at some point and recommends that growers bag those fleeces and off-sorts up separately. It's likely that your neighbor is going to have similar challenges and when the wool gets to the warehouse it can easily be weighed, credited to your account and then combined with similar wool to be marketed.
Contamination in Wool Bags
You name it and it has probably been found in a wool bale. Every warehouse, broker, buyer and mill has their favorite stories, complete with photos and hands-on examples. When prices are low, it's easy for growers and shearing crews to become lax with their attitudes on wool. When prices are low for wool, demonstrating a commitment to quality increases demand and marketability for your wool clip. Wool must not be contaminated during pressing by carelessness, neglect or deliberate actions.
Guilty by Association
Depending on your shearing crew and how your neighbors put up their wool does affect your reputation and the prices you receive for your wool. It has been suggested by some warehouses and buyers that both the grower's and shearing crew's name are included on the wool bale. It is no secret that some shearing crews and growers are more conscientious than others, and buyers want to reward those clips that are put up properly.
Growers that actively participate and fill out the Certified Wool Clip Declaration Forms (choice or premium) demonstrate to wool buyers that they are willing to produce a more valuable wool clip – and can be rewarded for their efforts. Growers should not assume that buyers will know what steps you have taken to improve your wool clip.
Certified Wool Clip Program
The U.S. Certified Wool Clip Program has been designed for all segments of the U.S wool industry to promote quality improvement in wool, including wool packaging. Shearing crews and growers that participate in the program are demonstrating to the wool-buying community that they are shearing, preparing and packaging their wool to a certain standard and purchasers can buy that wool with confidence.
Last year, ASI unveiled the program to growers and domestic and international buyers. In 2006, buyers are going to be looking for wool that is put up properly, complete with a declaration or certification made by the grower. Growers can contact their wool warehouse or visit the ASI Web site (www.sheepusa.org) for information on the Certified U.S. Wool Clip Program and the necessary forms for participation.