Wool is versatile, ubiquitous, and natural material that protects human body from hot, cold, dry, or wet conditions. It is also a renewable, sustainable, and biodegradable resource. The infographic above visualizes the world’s production of greasy wool, ranking the 20 largest wool producing countries, along with the amount each country produces.
The World’s Wool Production Volume 2020
According to the Crop Statistics of Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the world produced 1,784,925 tonnes (1 tonne = 1,000 kilograms or 2,204.62 pounds) of wool in 2020. The world’s wool production has been declining since 1990. The global wool production peaked in 1990 when the world wool production mounted to 3,350,481 tonnes. The wool production volume almost halved over the last three decades.
A report by Australian Wool Innovation Limited points that the decline was due initially to a stronger fall in the prices for apparel wool in the 1990s and early 2000s. This so-called Wool Crisis was triggered by a price scheme that the Australian Wool Corporation (AWC) had set up. Briefly speaking, AWC set a minimum floor price for wool that was in favour of producers. Naturally, farmers produced more and more wool while buyers were reluctant to buy pricy wool over cheaper artificial fiber. This resulted in wool stocks piling up, crushing the global wool price.
The Largest Wool Producing Countries 2020
Those who sat in geography class decades ago might guess—Australia is the largest wool producer. Yes, it used to be the case, but not anymore.
The latest FAO data ranks Australia at the second position. As of 2020, China is the largest greasy wool producer, producing 333,624 tonnes of wool. Australia follows China, with a wool production of 283,794 tonnes. New Zealand sits at the third place, producing 151,192 tonnes of wool. Then comes Turkey at the fourth with a production of 79,754 tonnes. The fifth position went to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland that produced 70,967 tonnes of wool.
If you looked for the United States, you must have been a brilliant student in geography before the 2000s. The United States—the country that almost always makes the top 20 in many agricultural production— produced only 17 million pounds or 7,711 tonnes of wool in 2020. The country used to appear in the top 10 list until the early 1980s, but it is out of the top 20 list today.
Below, we will look at the top 10 countries and their characteristics.
#1 – China | 333,624 t
Wool is produced widely across Northeast China. Especially, Xingjian, Inner Mongolia, and Qinghai are the main producing areas.
Being the largest wool producer, China is also the largest greasy wool importer. The history of wool production in China dates back to Xia Dynasty (approximately 2000 BC) and Shang Dynasty (approximately 1600 BC).
#2 – Australia | 283,794 t
Australia was the largest greasy wool producer for a long time until 2009 when China took over the crown. Today, the country remains as the largest greasy wool exporter, exporting 242,188 tonnes of wool in 2020. The fact that Australia continues to be the largest wool exporter reflects its quality being the world’s best. Australian wool is known for softness and smoothness, which makes it perfect for high-end apparel, knitwear, and woven.
New South Wales and Victoria are the hub of wool production, although production occurs in all Australian states except the Northern Territory. Australia shears a 74.3-million flock of sheep countrywide.
The first flock of sheep arrived in Australia in 1797 from the Netherlands with Captain Henry Waterhouse and Lieutenant William Kent. The first flock consisted of 26 merinos.
#3 – New Zealand | 151,192 t
Earlier than in Australia, the first two merinos arrived in New Zealand in 1773 with Captain Cook. Unfortunately, they couldn’t survive. The foundation of the livestock farming was recorded in 1834 when John Bell Wright imported 105 merinos from Australia.
Today, New Zealand secures the third position for both greasy wool production and export. Kiwi wool is thicker and coarser than Australian wool, which makes it suitable for blankets and carpets.
#4 – Turkey | 79,754 t
Once being the most important points of the Silk Road, Turkey developed its unique and beautiful textiles. Arts including carpet making using wool flourished in the 14th to 16th centuries with the influence of the Ottoman Empire.
Along with cotton, silk, and other animal hair, wool is an essential part in the country’s textile industry. In 2020, Turkey was the fourth largest wool producer. It was also the fourth largest exporter of degreased wool, after New Zealand, United Kingdom, and Syrian Arab Republic.
#5 – United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland | 70,967 t
Wool played a significant role in the history of Great Britain—in the two key events, the Hundred Years’ War and the Industrial Revolution.
In the Early Middle Age, the Middle East led the textile trade in Europe for their elaborated weaving skills. By the late 11th century, Flanders became a prominent trading town by weaving wool of neighboring lands. To break the Middle Eastern dominance in the textile industry, Flemish weavers further developed their woolen skills. By the 14th century, Flanders was one of the richest and urbanized parts in Europe. Unfortunately, the kingdoms of England and France started disputing Flanders in the Late Middle Age, which would continue for the following 116 years—the Hundred Years’ War.
Several centuries later, the Industrial Revolution occurred in Great Britain. The invention of wool spinning mule improved productivity of Britain’s woolen industry. Along with other industries such as iron, mining, transporting, etc., the improved productivity boosted British economy, creating the British hegemony.
#6 – Morocco | 58,839 t
Marrakesh, Casablanca, Fes—not only being a dazzling tourist destination, Morocco is also rich in weaving woolen crafts.
The Berber tribe is long known for its rugs with unique and wild patterns. Especially, Beni Ourain rugs have become increasingly popular worldwide. The tribal women hand-weave the rug from the wool of a flock of local sheep breeds (Marmoucha), which makes the rug extremely soft and durable.
#7 – Islamic Republic of Iran | 58,372 t
Persia, or today’s Iran, holds a long history of its wool weaving. People in Persia might have woven sheep wool 6,500 BC. Persian wool is coarse by its nature, which makes it suitable for carpets. Shiraz and Qom produce the best quality wool in the country that turns into the world’s highest quality carpets.
Persian carpets, especially if they are hand-woven, are expensive; they can cost tens of thousands of dollars. And it can take a few months to a few years to weave a carpet. The most expensive Persian carpet ever sold was for $33.8 million.
#8 – Russian Federation | 51,660 t
Although Russia has several kinds of domestic sheep breeds such as Romanov, the first flock of merinos landed in Russia during the reign of Peter the Great (1672 – 1725). In the 20th century before the World War II, Russia imported several breeds from Australia, Germany, the US, the UK and Argentina.
In 2020, apart from the domestic consumption, main destinations of Russia’s wool are: Belarus, India, China, Bulgaria, and Uruguay.
Siberian winter is freezing; Siberian winter clothes traditionally use wool or other animal hair to protect human bodies from cold. Russian shawls and Valenki boots are some examples of Russian woolen outfits.
#9 – South Africa | 47,287 t
The South African wool has a generic name: Cape Wool. The native South African sheep did not produce wool, so white settlers brought merinos from Spain. They crossed merinos with the native sheep, which produce Cape Wool today.
South Africa is the second greasy wool exporter as of 2020. Cape Wool is less crimpier, less elastic, and more tendering than Australian wool. These characteristics make Cape Wool suitable for shawls and legwear. Among Cape Wool, Cape Snow White Wool has a similar quality to Australian wool.
#10 – India | 45,844 t
While India is the 10th largest wool producer, it also imports a large amount of raw wool to manufacture woolen products. India produces carpets, yarn, fabrics, garments, and blankets both for domestic market and for exporting. The US and EU are the main export destinations for these woolen products.
The Indian wool textile industry consists of 2.7 million workers. Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat are the hubs for India’s wool industry.
Most of the wool produced in India is coarse and suitable for carpets. India has developed the carpet weaving since the 16th century under the Mughal Empire. The Mughal carpets are know for its decorative designs that combine Persian patterns and magnificent floral patterns. Today, India is the world’s largest exporter of carpets.