Sheep farmers say the cost of wool has dropped so low during coronavirus that some are now having to burn it, writes John Bett.

The price paid for wool has plummeted by nearly half from 60p a kilo to 32p this year - with crops now considered worthless.

Farmers say the situation has got so bad they now lose money when they sell it.

Previously, farmers would shear their livestock and take the remains to British Wool, previously known as the British Wool Marketing Board to sell.

But due to the virus, the price offered is now often worth less than the fuel the farmers would use to drive it to the depot.

They are dealing with the pile up by either burning the wool or using it for compost.

Lawrence Wright, 75, who farms sheep at Middle Campscott Farm near Ilfracombe, Devon, said: "Wool prices are on the floor this year and I've seen reports of people burning wool.

"It's environmentally unfriendly to burn it. If you are going to do anything with it I've also heard of people composting, which would be better.

"The British Wool Marketing Board didn't sell the whole of last year's yet so that has inevitably driven prices down."

Wool from each year's clip is sold a year later by British Wool and this year the market was shut in February.

As a result, the board are struggling to clear a nine million kilo backlog, out of an initial 27 million kilos.

Mark Weekes, 55, a sheep farmer from Exeter, Devon, said despite the financial difficulties, they still had to shorn all the sheep for welfare reasons.

He added: "We have to have them shorn, it's an animal welfare issue not to have them shorn.

"They suffer badly from blowfly strike which causes maggots and that is a horrendous thing for them to have. So we have to shear and that's a direct cost we can't recoup.

"We deliver our wool to the board, but it costs more to take it there than we make out of it.

"I can't bring myself to throw it away. It's low because people aren't using wool, they're more than happy to use plastics and pollute the environment.

"It's a shame, but that's how things are. If there was more demand the price would be higher."

British Wool said it hoped to emerge out of the slump in a stronger position, but needed the farmers support to be able to do that.

A spokesman said: "Given the situation we find ourselves in, we have had to place a value on this unsold stock which is at a significant discount to the last prices sold.

"We are asking producers to support us through this very difficult season by bringing their wool into us so that we can preserve the volume use of British wool downstream, further develop our new British wool-rich product ranges and emerge from the Covid-19 slump ready to exploit a strengthening market.

"Without the consolidation of wool into commercial volumes through British Wool and our continuing to market it more and more effectively, the prospect will be for lower prices indefinitely.

"We will emerge stronger from this period, so long as wool producers stay together and continue to back their organisation."