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Couple Hopes To Meet Alpaca Wool Processing Demand

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By IKE WILSON
The Frederick News-Post

ADAMSTOWN, Md. (AP) — The mid-Atlantic region offers a few places that will clean and process alpaca wool, and finding a plant that will do the work in a timely manner has proven to be a challenge for many of Frederick County’s 20-plus alpaca farmers.

Sugarloaf Alpaca Co. LLC in Adamstown, owned and operated by Nancy and Kevin Brandt, is on tap to become a source that alpaca owners can turn to process their fiber.

The Brandts recently received two checks — $40,455 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development agency and $7,950 from the Maryland Agricultural & Resource-Based Industry Development
Corp.

The value-added producer grant will be used along with the Brandts’ own matching funds to pay for a feasibility study and implementation plan for an on-farm plant to process alpaca wool from the surrounding area.

The Brandts’ grant proposal identified about $82,000 to complete a feasibility study, business plan and marketing plan for the development of an alpaca fiber spinning mill and agri-tourism destination.

“This plan won’t pay for developing the spinning mill, but it will validate our intuition about the demand for alpaca fiber yarns and products and it will lay out the road map to responsibly develop the mill,” Kevin Brandt said.

“We anticipate that we will be hiring perhaps four or more employees to support the operation when it is up and running — hopefully in 2013,” he said.

A local alpaca wool processing plant is beneficial for several reasons, the Brandts said.

“First, alpaca fiber is one of the most desirable fibers in the world — as warm as wool but often softer than cashmere, and it is in short supply despite a North American herd growth rate that has more than quadrupled over the last decade to more than 200,000 registered animals,” Nancy Brandt said.

Two years ago, the Brandts had an alpaca produce fiber that was so fine it equates to $123 per pound as raw fiber on the world market. Some of their animals have produced up to 13 pounds per animal.

Alpaca yarn generally commands a price of $6 to $9 per ounce depending on the quality of the yarn, Kevin Brandt said.

Several local alpaca breeders welcomed the announcement of the Brandts’ project.

“Having a local facility to produce yarn would be a wonderful addition to the local alpaca farming community in Frederick,” said Christine Charikofsky, who operates Alpacas of Windswept Farm in Middletown with her husband, Jeffrey.

Since the Charikofskys began their alpaca business in 2003, the couple has had difficulty getting fiber processed and have used fiber mills as far away as Georgia, Michigan and Oklahoma.

“Working with a local mill where I can eliminate shipping costs and reduce turnaround time would be a tremendous advantage to our business,” Christine Charikofsky said.

The Brandts’ fascination with alpacas started at the Great Frederick Fair in 2002. After visiting a number of booths, barns and vendors, Kevin Brandt suggested one last barn — at random. It turned out to be the alpaca barn, and the couple said they fell in love with the animals’ big brown eyes and began to investigate alpacas as a lifestyle change and way out of the corporate trenches for Nancy Brandt.

A lot of Internet research was followed by a three-day alpaca seminar in Oregon. The couple spent many hours discussing the topic, and Sugarloaf Alpaca Co. was born.

But having 12 alpacas in the Baker Park/Culler Lake neighborhood in historic Frederick where they lived wouldn’t work, so the Brandts began looking for a farm. They found 40 acres near Adamstown.

The couple sold their Baker Park house and moved to the farm two years later in a new house they designed themselves. Their herd of 29 alpacas arrived in December 2005 from Oregon.

“From the very beginning, Nancy had imagined a vertically integrated alpaca business — pasture-to-product, as we now call it — from breeding alpacas for the very best fiber to transforming that fiber into the very best yarn and finished products,” Kevin said. “We wanted to be engaged in the entire process.”

The farm has grown to 90 alpacas and during nearly 10 years of operation has sold more than 50 alpacas to other farms.

The Brandts mastered the breeding, husbandry and farm management aspects of the business. Then they focused on their dream of bringing alpaca fiber to the local and regional consumer and applied for the highly competitive USDA value-added producer grant program.

Sugarloaf Alpaca’s farm store carries an extensive line of yarns and hand-crafted needle-felted alpaca products.

The Brandts said they enjoy sharing the challenges and opportunities of being an alpaca breeder.

They have collaborated with other alpaca breeders to stage educational events, featuring local artisans weaving, knitting and spinning; conducted seminars for those interested in beginning an alpaca business and invited other experts to discuss how this member of the camel family, native to the South American Andes, came to be in North America and across Maryland.

Information from: The Frederick (Md.) News-Post

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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