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Texas A&M AgriLife’s wool testing lab becomes nation’s largest

published: February 17th 2021
by: Susan Himes
source: Texas AgriLife Today

Texas A&M AgriLife Research’s wool lab is poised to become the nation’s largest commercial wool testing lab. Already one of just two academic wool labs in the country, AgriLife Research’s lab is now transitioning to also accommodate the testing needs of the domestic wool trade.

The Bill Sims Wool and Mohair Research Laboratory in San Angelo is partnering with the American Sheep Industry Association, ASI, to upgrade with state of the art equipment to service the entire nation’s commercial wool testing needs. Currently the commercial U.S. wool industry must rely on labs overseas for testing, after the closure of the sole U.S. testing facility in 2020.

“With the closure of the testing lab in Colorado, we felt it was crucial to expand so producers aren’t reliant on overseas testing services,” said Reid Redden, Ph.D., Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Servicesheep and goat specialist and Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center interim director, San Angelo.

“With the addition of more equipment and personnel, we will be able to handle the testing needs of the entire U.S. commercial wool trade.”

History of innovation, service

The Bill Sims Wool and Mohair Research Laboratory, housed at the Texas A&M AgriLife center in San Angelo, has been analyzing wool, cashmere, mohair and alpaca fiber samples of sheep, goats and alpaca for quality and yield since 1985.

“The ability to have samples classified and verified is key to producers getting top dollar,” said Ronald Pope, Ph.D., AgriLife Research animal fiber scientist, San Angelo. “It is so important that the American wool producers can have their fibers tested by someone that they know and trust and not to have to rely on facilities overseas.” 

Pope explained that when U.S. wool producers have to ship fleece samples to other countries for analysis, it not only adds to the cost and time involved, but not having a homegrown facility leaves them vulnerable to changing and fluctuating import and export rules.

“To me it really is a safety and security issue for the agriculture industry that we are addressing,” Pope said.

Setting the standard

The critical work done in San Angelo has already been key for ensuring international wool imports meet the specifications of U.S. textile mills and that U.S. exported wool meets global standards.

Pope added that knowing which animals produce the best fiber is crucial in making genetic decisions that improve breeding programs and their associated bottom lines.

The lab utilizes over $1 million in equipment, which includes infrared, microscopes and lasers, to scientifically analyze the fiber samples. ASI will aid in procuring additional equipment in the near future to expand the lab’s analysis capabilities.

“We are so excited to be expanding to better serve the American wool industry and our producers,” Pope said. “This is important not just for AgriLife and our community, but fiber producers across the entire country.”

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