Interest in WPC float light as deadline passes

The expected failure of farmers to commit sufficient wool to a new marketing co-operative puts the onus on the existing players to make a step-change to an industry which is failing.

The deadline for growers of strong wool to commit 65 million kg of wool to Wool Partners Co-operative (WPC) was 5pm last night, but as of early January it had 35 million kg committed and the recent tone from chairman Jeff Grant was not one of confidence.

"There would need to be a fair tail wind," he said recently.

The final figure will not be known until tomorrow morning, as letters post stamped prior to 5pm last night would still be accepted.

If it fails, blame can be directed at the shortcomings of the WPC's initial prospectus, but also at a vicious campaign of opposition by wool exporters.

The current structure of little or no promotion and selling strong wool predominantly through the auction or through merchants, has failed - evident by 20 years of falling prices.

In an era where discerning buyers want products that are sustainable, natural and renewable, wool ticks all those boxes.

Yet the bulk of the 130 million kg of strong wool sold each year is, as an independent report on the state of the industry by the Wool Industry Network called it, dumped on the market.

There is no value added, no differentiation and no use made of New Zealand's greatest asset, its natural unspoilt environment.

It is rumoured an existing wool industry player is ready to launch an alternative to WPC should it fail, creating a structure in which farmers have a stake beyond just being the supplier of the raw material.

There is also the unknown future of the publicly listed New Zealand Wool Services International, which has, as its largest shareholder, interests associated with Allan Hubbard, which is in receivership.

Overseas and local companies are understood to be interested in that shareholding, and depending on who buys it, this could shape the future direction of the industry.

Auction prices have lifted 60% off rock-bottom levels this season, but that is despite the wool selling structure, and not because of it.

Farmers have quite possibly missed their last opportunity to take greater ownership of the wool chain and, by doing so, change the way the fibre is marketed.

It is going to be intriguing as what happens now, but the fact remains change is needed because the status quo is not an option.

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