Opportunity for wool growers to take industry ownership

Federated Farmers national president Bruce Wills has urged strong wool growers to ''stand united'' and take ownership of their industry.

Speaking as a farmer, Mr Wills said he had ''shared-up'' in Wools of New Zealand's capital raising and he challenged his colleagues to make a decision on the initiative.

Speaking as president of the rural lobby organisation, he said it was an individual decision ''in a desperately tough season financially and climatically''.

The offer to wool growers closes on February 25. The company aims to raise $10 million to pursue international marketing and sales opportunities.

While $5 million ''may be enough to get it over the line'', farmers, in return, would get a slice of the company and exposure to value-added wool beyond the farm gate, Mr Wills said.

Wool was once New Zealand's most valuable and visible export and its rapid unwinding was ''stunningly recent.''

''As late as October 2004, exports of meat, hides and wool still outpointed dairy and casein.

''In percentages back then, meat generated 93% of dairy's export value, with wool being 12.5%.

''Step forward to October 2012 and the relativity of meat to dairy was 45%, with wool down to 5.8%.

''Exports of meat, hides and wool now generate just over half of dairying's $12.5 billion in exports.

''It is perhaps the biggest missed opportunity for `NZ Inc' you have never heard about,'' he said.

Wools of New Zealand was not the only company seeking farmer involvement beyond the farm gate, as there was also the farmer-owned co-operative Elders Primary Wool, he said.

''My point is that we need to stand united and take our industry back, because wool's incremental losses will only keep mounting if we do nothing.''

Mr Wills endorsed the findings of Gisborne farmer Sandra Faulkner in her recently released Nuffield farming scholarship report - the need for collective grower investment, the need to support the Campaign for Wool, the need for government to do its bit, and the need for growers to take ownership.

In that report, Mrs Faulkner described the New Zealand wool industry as ''weak and fragmented, to the point of being dysfunctional''.

It seemed strong wool growers had been led to believe they no longer harvested a valuable crop off the backs of their sheep.

In stark comparison to their fine wool counterparts, strong wool growers had lost sight of the fact they supplied a niche product to the world - and the world wanted it.

That had been brought about by the commercial nature of the industry post-harvest, for whom selling wool had become ''a race to the bottom of the price scale'', she said.

Until growers began to believe in their product, have some pride in what left their farms and started to seriously question what happened to their wool post-harvest, they would continue to receive unsustainably low prices for their product, she said.

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