Silicon Valley help for NZ merino

Tapping into the talent of Silicon Valley will help merino farmers reduce their environmental...
Tapping into the talent of Silicon Valley will help merino farmers reduce their environmental impact, and rewards will follow, New Zealand Merino Company chief executive John Brakenridge says. PHOTO: NEW ZEALAND MERINO
A California connection has New Zealand Merino Company (NZM) leaders positive they can top the more than $105 million in sales this year.

The company has formed a partnership with a Silicon Valley technology platform called Actual to tap into some of its smartest innovation and technology brains.

This will be woven into NZM’s model of long-term contracts, "storytelling" and premiums through its ZQRX programme with brand partners such as Smartwool, Allbirds icebreaker and Reda.

The aims include creating more value for farmers from their carbon responsibilities and to help shoppers buy woollen garments that last longer.

The joint venture was launched earlier this month at a ceremony attended by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and California Governor Gavin Newsom under a pohutakawa tree in San Francisco.

NZ Merino executive John Brakenridge was a delegate in the prime minister’s trade mission to the United States.

He said Silicon Valley tech companies were masters of machine learning and Actual’s input could be in the form of predictive models on farms that might show a need for more planting or shifting stock.

The positive environmental impact from these tools to monitor and measure their carbon footprint would help brand partners gain higher premiums from the marketplace. This would incentivise farmers to lower their carbon emissions and increase their biodiversity, he said.

He said woollen garments showing substance, traceability and low impact were in tune with the United States where environmental, social and corporate governance was now written into legislation, he said.

"We are super excited about the whole interest in agriculture and technology and getting some of the smartest people to lean in and support our farmer group.

"Farmers are coming under increased pressure for compliance and so forth and overlay that with carbon, so this is a way to bring this together that is a real use to growers."

Mr Brakenridge said much of the carbon approach to farming was through compliance and a "taxation mindset", but the joint venture would work to create opportunities.

He said more value would be added from differentiating the joint venture partners’ brands from others in the marketplace.

"I’m determined to [improve] the sales of our brand partners running with ZQRX of over $105 million and we are investing in it.

"We think this is the way of the future and will continue to seek substantial growth not only for fine wool but mid-micron and strong wool."

Actual co-founder Karthik Balakrishnan said the initiative would provide steps so farmers and their brands could improve their sustainability and impact on the planet.

New Zealand Merino’s network of fine wool, mid-micron and strong wool farmers now owns a land base of 2million hectares — just under 15% of New Zealand’s pastoral farmland.

Mr Brakenridge said Californians appreciated the scale of this land area and also believed the way of the future was not through an adversarial approach.

There was a movement towards slow fashion and natural fibres, he said.

"People are coming out of this [Covid-19] period and are being far more considerate in their purchasing within the United States. "

On average, garments were only worn seven times. Globally, textiles were the second largest polluter behind oil and gas.

"Buying garments, and a huge amount is synthetics, and throwing it away after seven uses with all these microplastics is not the way forward," Mr Brakenridge said.

Shoppers would be better off by buying fewer low-impact garments and wearing them more often.

New Zealand Merino says its wool accounts for about 15% of the country’s supply, but is worth 43% of the value of this country’s wool clip.

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