The History of Wool Pools in Montana
By Jim Drummond and Brent Roeder
The history of wool-marketing in the United States shows that a need for improved methods of marketing raw wool has always existed.
The need has been keen for the sheep producer who wants to receive the most dollars for his product and for the buyer or manufacturer who wants to obtain a high quality product. In the 1800’s sheep numbers increased rapidly throughout the United States. In the last half of that century with the development of the West and Northwest, a large part of the sheep and wool industry found itself removed from the major centers of manufacturing and consumption. With the increased distance between point of production and the point of manufacturing, the marketing and transportation problems became more complex.
With development of small flocks in the irrigated valleys of Montana, the need increased for a marketing agency close to home.
Certainly, there was an outlet for wool through larger co-operative organizations in the Central and Eastern states, but costs of shipping individual small lots to the co-ops was expensive and the returns were not immediately forthcoming. Although net returns from eastern co-ops to the producer were often greater, most producers felt that quick cash returns were more essential. In a response to a request from the small wool producers in the Gallatin Valley, R. E. Bodley, County Extension Agent, called a meeting on May 22, 1920, to determine the feasibility of forming an organization to accumulate and market wool. About 60 small wool producers met and founded the “Gallatin County Sheep and Wool Growers Association.” At that same meeting they adopted a constitution and set of by-laws which most Montana pools have since adopted. Within two months after the pool was organized, it received inquiries from many dealers and wool houses. By 1928, the pool was marketing annually over a quarter of a million pounds of wool.
In 1921, the Stillwater Woolgrowers Association was formed, and by 1950 seven more pools had been formed in Montana.
Since 1950 the number of small flocks has increased rapidly. The need for wool pools grew rapidly and in 1968, through the cooperation of the growers themselves and the Montana Woolgrowers Association, the Montana Wool Laboratory, and the Montana Cooperative Extension Service, 29 pools were active in the state. With the decline in sheep numbers since the end of their peak in the 1940’s, there are currently 13 pools still active in Montana in 2012. Wools pools still serve a vital function in reducing transportation costs and giving smaller growers the advantage in today’s world market of economies of scale