The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers' Association (ICSA) has called for a reclassification of wool at EU level to allow the sheep sector to utilise shorn fleeces as a soil nutrient source.

ICSA sheep chair Seán McNamara made the call, saying wool should be categorised as a crop or commodity in recognition of its potential value.

“As it stands, wool is classified as category three waste, along with animal carcasses,” McNamara said.

“Wool is harvested from a live animal and is 100% natural. It should be classified as a valuable natural resource that is completely safe to spread on farms,” he continued.

ICSA organics chair Fergal Byrne said that wool is not waste of any kind.

"It is a crop, and it needs to be classed as such, so it can be viably put to use in all the various commercial and industrial ways it is suited to," he said.

Wool fertiliser

McNamara said that by virtue of this categorisation, farmers are prevented from spreading wool on their farms for use as a fertiliser or as compost.

“Sheep farmers have been grappling with shockingly low wool prices for well over a year now, so it also makes clear economic sense for sheep farmers to minimise their use of chemical fertiliser and use what is freely available to them," he said.

The organics chair gave a breakdown of the nutrient content of wool, quantifying possible fertiliser reduction strategies’ scope.

“Fertiliser produced from wool is a natural weed suppressant, which releases slowly into the ground. A 25kg bag made from wool pellets delivers a 9:1:2 NPK mix.

“With the size of our national flock, we could potentially produce 5,000t of wool fertiliser annually using our domestic wool crop alone,” claimed Byrne.