Can wool un­ravel its tan­gled his­tory?

Ruapehu Press - - Your Local News - JON MOR­GAN

OPIN­ION: Strong wool in­come for the year just ended doesn’t make for pleas­ant read­ing.

For an av­er­age 8000-stock-unit sheep and beef busi­ness it is just over half that of the pre­vi­ous year, tak­ing about $60,000 out of the bot­tom line.

Pre­dic­tions for the year ahead aren’t any bet­ter at about $2-$2.50 a kg – although how any­one can re­li­ably pre­dict such a volatile in­dus­try beats me.

Ex­porters say they have 5 per cent of the an­nual clip in their stores and it is un­known how much wool farm­ers and mer­chants are stor­ing.

There’s no easy an­swer wool’s woes.

And it’s no use blam­ing the farm­ers who voted against a wool levy some years back.

Their protest at what they un­der­stand­ably saw as years of to in­com­pe­tency was in­evitable.

And, any­way, the levy money was for re­search and in­dus­try train­ing, not for mar­ket de­vel­op­ment.

An­other move, a few years ear­lier than this, was more sig­nif­i­cant.

It was the de­ci­sion, when re­form of the Meat and Wool Boards got un­der­way, to ex­clude pro­mo­tion of wool as one of the key tasks of the new Meat and Wool New Zealand.

This ex­tra­or­di­nary an­tipa­thy to pro­mot­ing one of our sta­ple ex­ports stemmed from years of de­clin­ing sales un­der the aegis of the Wool Board.

A fig­ure of $250 mil­lion has been put on the amount of wasted farm­ers’ money.

Wiser peo­ple than me have cast blame at the Wool Board of the late 80s, which, car­ried away by Aus­tralian hype, used its huge re­serves to in­ter­vene in mar­kets to keep prices ar­ti­fi­cially high.

This gave farm­ers good re­turns for a few years but when in­ter­ven­tion ended in the 90s and prices col­lapsed, the board dis­cov­ered it had alien­ated many of its cus­tomers.

They went to syn­thet­ics and, de­spite the valiant ef­forts of peo­ple like Prince Charles and the Campaign for Wool, have never re­turned.

If you want to look even fur­ther back, it is now plain to see – it seems to me – that farm­ers missed their best chance to save their in­dus­try in the early 70s.

That was when the Great Wool De­bate raged, over whether to ac­quire the en­tire wool clip and take over its mar­ket­ing.

In the end, farm­ers chose not to. Wool’s demise wasn’t so ob­vi­ous then but in ret­ro­spect it can be seen this was the last real op­por­tu­nity they had to col­lab­o­rate and form a Fon­terra-type co­op­er­a­tive.

At­tempts to muster grow­ers and re­gain a stronger mar­ket pres­ence have been made sev­eral times this cen­tury but have failed to at­tract the num­bers needed to pull this off.

It would be great to see farm­ers tak­ing back con­trol of this unique prod­uct.

It would mean com­mit­ting money they can barely spare to a cause that might take gen­er­a­tions to bear fruit.

But the tim­ing could be right in these days of en­vi­ron­men­tal aware­ness wool has a ready-made pro­mo­tional ad­van­tage.

It seems older farm­ers have be­come dis­il­lu­sioned and the younger don’t think of wool as a gen­uine source of in­come, more of a nui­sance.

This is a gross gen­er­al­i­sa­tion and I could be wrong. I hope so.

ANDY JACK­SON/FAIRFAX NZ

Where there’s a wool there’s a way.

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