Three-year cashmere scheme launches

Woolyarns’ international marketing manager Jimad Khan (left), New Zealand Cashmere business...
Woolyarns’ international marketing manager Jimad Khan (left), New Zealand Cashmere business development manager Olivia Sanders and Woolyarns’ general manager Andy May are excited about the ramping up of the cashmere industry. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
New Zealand Cashmere is hoping goats will float the boats of the country’s farmers.

A three-year programme aimed at "restarting" the cashmere industry has been launched, led by New Zealand Cashmere and backed by the Government via a $900,000 contribution over that period through the Ministry for Primary Industries’ Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures Fund.

Textile manufacturer Woolyarns has commissioned a multimillion-dollar cashmere processing facility at its Lower Hutt operations to meet customer demand.

The programme is led by Woolyarns general manager and New Zealand Cashmere director Andy May, who said it was focused on assisting farmers with advice and support structures to restart the industry and sustainably farm cashmere-producing goats within their existing farming systems.

The global cashmere fibre industry was valued at $2 billion, and Woolyarns’ international marketing manager Jimad Khan said the fibre was not a commodity fibre, historically returning between $110-$150 per kilogram.

"It sits right at the top end of the luxury fibre market and it has a long-standing, loyal customer and consumer following. This is a very stable high-end market.

"At Woolyarns, we have relationships with leading European fashion houses who are looking to source sustainably produced, ultra-high-end cashmere fibre from New Zealand farmers. These relationships have enabled us to offer long-term fibre contracts through New Zealand Cashmere, so farmers can learn how to produce cashmere to take advantage of this global market demand," he said.

New Zealand Cashmere was working with South Otago-based New Zealand Cashmere Genetics Ltd, which has been breeding cashmere-producing goats for more than 35 years.

As part of the project, New Zealand Cashmere Genetics’ David Shaw was working with researchers from Dunedin-based agribusiness consulting firm AbacusBio on the genetics programme to support the growth of the industry.

New Zealand Cashmere business development manager Olivia Sanders was working with farmers wanting to take part in the establishment of herds as part of their farm systems, and she was keen to hear from anyone interested.

"This is an exciting time for farmers to be part of the start of a high-value industry which is backed by a company with over 75 years of processing and marketing expertise. There are opportunities for farmers to get onboard early as breeding properties, pilot farms and growers," she said.

Expressions of interest were being called for from farmers wishing to participate in New Zealand Cashmere’s Foundation Flock Programme.

"These farms will be supported by New Zealand Cashmere with technical on-farm support to become breeding properties to supply quality animals as seed stock to grow the industry, whilst enjoying the raft of benefits cashmere goats bring to their wider farming system," Ms Sanders said.

The benefits of introducing them into farm systems went beyond diversification of revenue and included improved pasture utilisation and up to 30% improvement in clover cover, which benefited other stock classes. They were also a good form of biological weed control, reducing the use and costs of chemical sprays.

Ms Sanders, who is third-generation in a Central Otago family of merino growers, left her job which she "absolutely loved" at FarmIQ to become involved in New Zealand Cashmere, citing the "huge" opportunities in the industry.

"It’s really exciting to be at the front of something I just so truly believe can make such a difference to a number of farming systems," she said.

Most farmers had not worked with goats as a commercial animal; much of their experience had been with feral goats and it was "quite a different animal" when in a commercial farming system, she said.

She wanted to hear from farmers who were "open to being open" about their journey and who were committed to the programme for at least three to five years to get meaningful results.

It was not expected that farmers would go 100% into goats; for some farmers, it might be that the goats supplemented the shearing costs of their crossbred sheep, she said.

"I keep thinking, we as farmers keep getting asked to do more with less and be easier on the environment ... this is an option to be able to do that and supply a luxury market we don’t see in New Zealand," she said.

New Zealand could provide traceable, ethical and sustainably produced cashmere, and offer accredited programmes alongside.

The goats were both a low-input stock class and low-cost to get into, she said.