The woolly way
WOOL WAS ONCE THE ECONOMY’S GREAT WHITE HOPE. NOW, AFTER YEARS IN THE DOLDRUMS, SOME INNOVATIVE BUSINESSES ARE HELPING THE PRODUCT RISE AGAIN
THE ASTINO SOUNDS like the name of a cocktail or a fancy European sports car, but you’re unlikely to find it anywhere near a bar or even a parking lot. It is in fact a trademarked breed of sheep that was developed in 2017. The Astino prefers the fresh air and steep terrain of our high country farms.
This cuddly character – and its cousins – could be a magic bullet for the dwindling fortunes of the New Zealand wool industry. While wool was once the warm backbone of the economy, there’s little international demand for the fleeces that once went into carpets and textiles all over the world (and there are only so many knitted jumpers a person can own).
A report prepared by the Ministry for Primary Industries in December last year says that the wool market remains ‘subdued’, with meagre overseas takers to boost traded volumes or prices. On the other hand, fine wool exports (which account for eight per cent of New Zealand’s wool export volume) have risen nearly 20
per cent over the past year and are approaching record levels.
This is where the Astino comes in. It’s bred specifically for premium wool-based healthcare products by Lanaco, a New Zealand wool innovation company. Lanaco chief executive Nick Davenport says realizing that wool could be used as a filter instead of many monofunctional synthetic fibres was a lightbulb moment. It ticks all the boxes: it’s bacteria-resistant, manages moisture, removes toxins from the air and is easy to breathe through.
Lanaco went a step further and set about creating their own supply chain “where we could write the performance we required from the wool and set that as a breeding objective”.