Group empowering strong wool sector

Strong Wool Action Group executive officer Andy Caughey is helping to carry out the recommendations of the Wool Industry Project Action Group report. PHOTO: KERRIE WATERWORTH
Strong Wool Action Group executive officer Andy Caughey is helping to carry out the recommendations of the Wool Industry Project Action Group report. PHOTO: KERRIE WATERWORTH
A group set up to support growers of strong wool and bring their fibres back to market in a way relevant to consumer trends is due to wind up at the end of the year and present its recommendations. The Strong Wool Action Group was established to carry out the recommendations of the Wool Industry Project Action Group report. Executive officer Andy Caughey, of Wanaka, spoke with Kerrie Waterworth.

Why was the Strong Wool Action Group formed?
Consumers are moving towards a more sustainable way of living.

We have all this beautiful strong wool fibre but we are not resonating with the change in consumers to natural fibres that biodegrade at the end of their life.

The Strong Wool Action Group was formed to help the strong wool industry in three key areas: firstly, to be market-driven — understanding what the consumer drives are and building bridges to connect with the market.

Secondly, to make sure our fibres match-fit and are ready for those customers in the marketplace. That means having high-quality and properly classed fibre, growing the right sheep breeds, having good, qualified shearers and wool classers, and conducting data collection and research and development as well as giving growers clear guidance for the direction they should be going forward.

Thirdly, we are looking at what sort of structures should help guide our industry forward.

The wool levy was dropped 10 years ago and the [New Zealand] Wool Board has gone, so we have been an industry without a uniting entity.

What we are looking at now is what sort of modern contemporary entity should be formed to represent the different interest groups within that value chain.

You have growers, merchants and brokers, exporters and the brands, both onshore and offshore, so how can we combine all those and represent each of them. It may be a combination or standalone entities.

When did the group form?
We started in September 2020 and we will work through until the end of this year.

There has been tremendous change in the last 12 months — we still have five months to go and by the end of our tenure we will have an entity or a number of entities that will represent the wool industry and continue the work we have started.

We see new merino clothing coming out but there is actually a huge amount of innovation happening in the strong wool sector.

We have new ideas and new products. For instance, we are going to see strong wool used in acoustic panels and home insulation.

Companies like Big Save who have [strong wool] sofas and bedding are providing returns to growers now at $4.50 when the market is just over $2 just so they can maintain sheep on their properties and return to profitability.

Up until just very recently the cost of shearing exceeded the return that growers got for their strong wool.

Do you think we will see some farmers go back to sheep farming instead of dairying?
Farmers will be driven by where they can get their greatest return.

We see wool as a modern, contemporary, sustainable fibre. We may have seen it disappear but consumers are becoming much more aware of healthy homes, the materials that are around them, and the environment.

That will see a return to natural materials and natural fibres.

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