Sheep wool, a good vein for Lorraine

Lined up like Lego bricks, most of the buildings in Bataville, in Moselle, seem abandoned. Most of the premises of the former shoe factory have been abandoned. But these red and white blocks will soon house new machines, new workers… In short, a new factory. Mos-Laine will invest in Bataville in 2024. Its main activity: collecting and transforming local wool.

This project was inspired by Wool Challengea cross-border aid program, launched in 2017, aimed at “to recreate a value chain for the sheep’s wool produced in the Greater Region” – which brings together Lorraine and Belgian and Luxembourg border regions. Partner of the program, the regional natural park of Lorraine approached Stéphane Ermann, sheep breeder.

Like many of his colleagues for a long time, the shepherd is no longer really interested in wool: “We have been formatted to produce kilos of meat, and not tons of wool, because there are no real outlets anymore”, justifies the one who is also mayor of Réchicourt-le-Château, the town which is home to Bataville. Yet wool has long been a source of income for breeders.

Stéphane Ermann, sheep breeder and mayor of Réchicourt-leChâteau, is also the kingpin of the Mos-Laine cooperative.

• MATHIEU CUGNOT/DIVERGENCE FOR LIFE

A fair price for breeders

But competition from foreign countries has led to the dismantling of the transformation channels for this material. Today, wool is very rarely processed in France, and the few factories in France that use it prefer to source from abroad. In this globalized context, most breeders resign themselves to letting their wool fly to the other side of the world. Joseph Remillon, a few kilometers from Bataville, confirms: for several years, he sold the wool of his sheep to a merchant, who sent it back mainly to Asia.

In addition to the evaporation of a local raw material and the carbon footprint generated by such trade, the prices practiced are also problematic: the kilo of wool is sold off between 0.10 and 0.30 €. Forced to shear their sheep for hygienic reasons, some shepherds no longer even bother to sell their wool; they store it in attics, even compost it, when they are not burning it.

Felt and insulation for the local market

Mos-Laine suggests another horizon: to create a factory which would transform, in Moselle, the wool of the breeders of the territory. The idea of ​​a micro-spinning mill, which would only use the wool for the fashion industry, was quickly abandoned: too unprofitable, due to the low volumes available. Indeed, the yarn requires high quality wool, which not all sheep have.

The PNR and its partners have therefore turned to other outlets: felt and insulation. “They allow you to pass all the wool, explains Stéphane Ermann, cis important to unite all breeders. » Especially since these products seem to have real potential on the market. Felt, a kind of relatively thin fabric, is used in many sectors: fashion, decoration, furniture, construction… As for insulation, Mos-Laine will offer it in panels and in “blown” form, in packaging similar to that of glass wool or foam insulation.

While waiting to invest the walls of Bataville, it is the Cetelor, in Epinal, which is responsible for producing prototypes. In its technical hall, the Lorraine textile testing center carries out tests on an almost industrial scale and has already released several pre-series. Insulating panels have thus come to dress the attic of the town hall of Réchicourt, a village hall near Nancy or the offices of the chamber of agriculture.

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In Bataville, the former Bata shoe factory, Stéphane Ermann and his lamb pose in front of the future premises of Mos-Laine

• MATHIEU CUGNOT/DIVERGENCE FOR LIFE

Limit exports

By turning three-eight, the Bataville factory should be able to absorb more than 200 tons of wool per year, or two-thirds of the fleeces of Lorraine sheep. Before reaching this cruising speed, Mos-Laine plans to hire three full-time employees. Around sixty Moselle breeders have already taken a stake in the capital of the company, erected as a SCIC (cooperative society of collective interest) since July 2021. Among them, Joseph Remillon and his son Pierre are eager to no longer see their wool “to go to China, and thus be able to counter the spirit of globalization. »

In their meadow, some of their 450 ewes frolic. The others stayed at the sheepfold, with the lambs. The main income of the Remillon farm remains that of meat. But Mos-Laine will enable us to make better use of our wool and limit our economic losses”, hopes Joseph. The Scic promises to pay the high price to the shepherds: €2.50 per kilo of wool. A way to reimburse the mowing site, or even to derive added value from it. It has become a constraint to mownotes Peter, and the wool has become waste. With Mos-Laine, it will regain market value. And it’s rewarding to see what it becomes,” adds the shepherd.

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The town hall of Réchicourt itself was insulated with sheep’s wool from the Greater Region.

• MATHIEU CUGNOT/DIVERGENCE FOR LIFE

The collection is organized

All the logistics still have to be put in place. The recovery and sorting of wool, first: “We want to multiply the collection points, and perhaps work with a cooperative from Haute-Marne, responsible for sorting and transport to a laundromat, in Verviers, Belgium”, says Stéphane Ermann. Unless Mos-Laine equips itself with its own laundry, still hesitates the boss, who also wonders about the place where his raw material will be treated, in particular against moths. The wool that will enter the production lines must indeed be sorted, washed, degreased, treated…

To finance this project, which requires an investment of more than 3 million euros, Stéphane Ermann has already been able to receive aid through the Défi-Laine project. It now relies on subsidies from the Moselle department and the Grand-Est region. The breeder-CEO-elected also hopes to be able to rely on public orders; for example, the department plans to renovate its colleges with Mos-Laine insulation.

Other transformation sectors

Before this SCIC, other cooperative societies, in Ardèche or in the Pyrenees, succeeded in rebuilding local wool processing industries. But only 4% of the wool shorn in France is valued on the territory”, observes Pascal Gautrand. Its association, the Tricolor collective, has been striving since 2020 to increase this share, by bringing together the various players in the chain, to prevent “each local initiative stays in its corner”.

“Livestocks are so scattered over the territory that it is difficult to gather large volumes, which are nevertheless necessary for the financing of industrial tools”, confirms Anne-Laure Milhe, from the Union of Textile Industries, a stakeholder in the collective. Tricolor has thus released a plan of 1.6 million euros to promote exchanges between breeders, industrial processors and distributors, but also to develop new outlets as well as tools aimed at improving the quality of wool.

The challenge is not only economic: putting a biosourced material back at the heart of our insulation or our clothing will reduce the use of synthetic fibers or cotton, sources of pollution. And ensuring an additional income for sheep farmers also means helping to maintain the sheep, and therefore the biodiversity of the meadows they shape.

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Sheep wool, a good vein for Lorraine


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