The future of alpaca
At present in the UK, there is a high demand for top quality alpacas and a limited supply. This has maintained a superb financial market for breeders. These numbers should only increase gradually due to a number of controlling factors.
Firstly, alpacas can only produce one live offspring every year as a result of their long gestation (11 months).
Due to the strict rules and regulations placed on importing alpacas, the time taken to do so, and also the sheer costs involved, their numbers should only have a limited impact. In addition, top quality animals in Peru still command high prices, and their numbers are restricted by climatic conditions and available land. Hence, cheap imports are not possible.
Only 21% of the world alpaca market is currently being met, so the aim is to increase the number of pedigree animals to meet this demand and create a profitable and sustainable fibre industry in the UK. We are approximately 10 years away in terms of animal numbers from achieving this goal, so until then, the alpaca will be rare, and all breeders will make money from selling animals to those joining the industry!
The market in North America and Australia is some years ahead of us, where prices for animals have remained stable (or risen for superior genetics), and the growth of the industry has been encouraging. If we follow this trend the situation is likely to last here for at least a decade or more.
However, it is essential that in order to maintain a viable and competitive fibre industry in the UK, we need to produce far greater volumes of fleece. Yarn and clothing manufacturers require security of supply, and consistent high quality if they are to pay premium rates. As a result, careful selective breeding programmes are essential to increase yields and superiority, if we wish to maintain sound and ongoing profits.
In summary, there are too few animals in the UK to supply the quantities of fleece necessary to support a commercial fibre processing industry. However, alpaca fibre is a highly sought after natural product, that has the requisite attributes to compete at the top end of an elite market. As animal numbers increase, the price paid to the producer will increase to reflect the added value that manufacturers gain from processing the fibre into yarn or finished goods. Therefore, the return to the grower for superior alpacas and the best quality fleece in an established market place should be significant and sustained.