Did wool ever sell for a pound a pound in 1951?

My grandfather farmed in the Pohangina Valley near Ashurst, in the Manawatu and in 1951, it was rumoured, he received £1 for every pound by weight for his wool clip (£1 per lb.).

This was legendary stuff for me, a young fella growing up in the 1960s, looking up to his Gramps.

Gramps had two farms and by all accounts was a reasonably successful farmer, but his 1951 wool clip would have earned him in the order of $6 million in today’s dollars, if he actually got £1 per lb. for his whole dip.

I needed to find out whether the £1 per lb. claim was fact, or myth.

I remember asking him before he died whether he really did get a £1 a lb. for his wool and the short answer was “No”. Prices fluctuated with every wool sale and there were many wool sales that year, and according to Gramps, he did have some of his wool in what was the best sale of the year.

The average price for greasy wool in early 1951 was around 115 pennies, a long way short of the 240 pennies needed to make a £1! Of course, there would have been a wide range of prices paid for wool that year and from memory, Gramps’s best price was around 175 pence a lb. Still, in today’s dollars, and at an average price of, say, 150 pennies a lb. that would equate to income of $3.8 million for his wool clip for that year.

Wool was New Zealand’s main export crop from the 1850s and well into the 1900s. By 1920 wool earned 26% of New Zealand’s exports. Even by 1981 wool earned nearly 20% of total exports whereas today, it earns around 1.5% of total New Zealand exports.

New Zealand is the third largest producer of wool in the world after Australia and Russia. We are the second largest exporter of wool behind Australia who has 52% of the world trade in wool. We have 20% of the world trade in wool.

What happened to wool prices in 1951?

The price of wool tripled overnight in 1951 due to the United States military replenishing their ‘strategic stockpiles’. Their strategic stockpiles had been depleted producing uniforms for soldiers in the Korean War that was raging at the time.

The following year, in 1952, wool prices fell back to where they had been before. However, the 1951 rise in wool prices produced the greatest economic boom in New Zealand’s history never seen again since.

Wool is once again in the news with a government Action Group report out recently. Looking back to 1951 is irrelevant to the economic situation for wool today, other than as a bit of history. What was once a great income earner has now become a drain on farmer’s incomes.

As a byproduct of the sheep meat industry it appears that a wonderful product is going to waste.

Wool marketing needs leadership. Strong leadership, with the entire country behind it.

Lots of positive factors are lining up for wool, most obviously it being a natural product, and no, sheep do not have to be slaughtered to harvest the wool.

We have been here before with this new report and very little changed. God help us if we throw away another opportunity to raise the economic value of wool and make it a desirable item world-wide. We will only have ourselves to blame.

Could we not combine with Australia, a much larger producer of wool, to get economies of scale? We could tackle the marketing and research function together because it is going to cost billions of dollars and they have deeper pockets than we do.

A ‘down-under’ brand for wool. Take the world by storm?

Keep asking great questions …