Strong wool crusade pushing for ‘quality’

Strong wool enthusiasts stopping in Clinton on Monday last week on a southern tour to share ideas...
Strong wool enthusiasts stopping in Clinton on Monday last week on a southern tour to share ideas on how to make the wool industry better are (clockwise from top left) WoolWorks New Zealand business development manager Rosstan Mazey, of Wellington, Wool Impact chief executive Andy Caughey, of Wanaka, Agwool New Zealand founder Ken Algie, of Waimate, Agwool New Zealand administrator Nic Ruddenklau, of Five Forks, and sheep and beef farmer Colin McDonald, of Slope Point. PHOTO: SHAWN MCAVINUE
The strong wool system needs rewiring, starting with farmers improving the quality of their clip, an advocacy group for the fibre say.

A group of strong wool advocates spoke about their vision for a bright future for the fibre at a roadshow in the South last week.

The roadshow stopped in Clinton, Gore, Invercargill, Owaka, Tokanui and Wyndham.

About 40 people attended the stop at Crossroads hotel in Clinton.

Agwool New Zealand founder Ken Algie said one aim of the group was for people to buy a product containing strong wool, like it and buy it again.

"It’s time we stood up and made quality and impressed people."

He left school to work as a fabric designer in a woollen mill.

"It has been a disappointing industry to watch."

For farmers to be paid more for their strong wool, they needed to be supplying a higher-quality clip, which was fit for purpose at processors.

"The processors are getting underwhelming wool and they’re getting underwhelming results."

The supply of poor-quality wool was encouraging processors to use synthetic materials instead.

In a bid to improve the situation, he launched Agmatch about nine years ago.

Agmatch was an online community allowing trading between farmers, suppliers, the public and processors with no transaction costs, he said.

An Agmatch transaction sourced quality strong wool from farmers at $25/kg for jerseys.

"It’s been quite successful."

Other products included carpet from second-shear wool and an underlay from bellies and pieces.

"I look at a fleece like a carcass, you sell the lamb racks for good money but you’ve got to sell the rest before you make money."

Bunnings Warehouse had shown interest in sourcing wool from the group to make insulation, he said.

"There is a lot of potential."

For wool to realise its potential, everyone had to play their parts right.

To be a member of Agmatch and Agwool cost $500 a year.

"We are boutique — we would prefer to have 100 farmers with a bale or two, than two farmers with 50 bales. We want more people involved and more people taking ownership."

The buyers of most of the national clip were international traders.

"They don’t give a damn about your wool — they give a damn about their business and it’s time we all gave a damn about our business."

Wool Impact chief executive Andy Caughey said New Zealand provided about a quarter of the global clip of strong wool.

However, of that global clip, New Zealand produced about two-thirds of its best quality wool.

The niche product should be supplied to markets willing to pay a premium.

"We should be behaving like we’ve got something special."

The wool industry needed to be switched around so it was driven by demand, by connecting to popular brands of domestic and international companies which valued sustainability.

A search was on for companies with brands to champion strong wool and change its perception of being "an old fashioned fibre", Mr Caughey said.

Wool Impact was launched about a year ago to facilitate change and create a "flourishing strong wool sector".

An aim of Wool Impact was to select the best quality from the national clip to give processors production efficiencies and a better end product.

Improved clip preparation would restore the reputation of New Zealand strong wool in international markets.

The inferior wool in the national clip would be used in non-woven products.

"Let’s optimise what we’ve got."

An aim of Wool Impact was to fight for wool’s natural status so it could compete against synthetic materials.

A challenge ahead was to "rewire the wool system" so value captured in the marketplace was returned to farmers.

Farmers should be optimistic about the future of strong wool, he said.

The five main meat companies had provided "tremendous support" to Wool Impact because they wanted sheep numbers to increase, he said.

Wool Impact was co-funded by WoolWorks, Mr Caughey said.

WoolWorks New Zealand business development manager Rosstan Mazey said Woolworks was only as good as the product it was provided.

The start of the production of a quality product included the preparation and classing of the fibre in woolsheds.

"We can do a great marketing job but if we don’t have the right fibre coming in, that’s fit-for-purpose, then we are kidding ourselves."


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