Spot­light on wool's fu­ture


New Zealand’s wool in­dus­try is in cri­sis and it’s se­ri­ous, says Woodville farmer of 66 years John Bradley.

Bradley joined a large num­ber of farm­ers from around the re­gion at the Beef + Lamb New Zealand Tararua Farm­ing for Profit Sem­i­nar in Dan­nevirke on Septem­ber 5, with the fo­cus of the day, “Wool, wool, what is it good for?”

“Peo­ple are still in­ter­ested in wool, but we need to se­ri­ously look at the fu­ture of the wool in­dus­try,” Si­mon Mar­shall, of Vet Ser­vices Dan­nevirke, said.

The fo­cus of the sem­i­nar was to ex­plore the fu­ture of the wool in­dus­try in New Zealand and what farm­ers could do in an en­vi­ron­ment of low prod­uct re­turns and high shear­ing costs.

“It’s a mat­ter of, is the wool in­dus­try on track, off the track or over the bank?” Bradley said.

“It’s se­ri­ous when farm­ers are send­ing stock to the freez­ing works with their wool on be­cause they get a pit­tance for that wool.

“Our na­tional flock peaked at 75 mil­lion sheep and it’s now down to 22 mil­lion, that’s af­fect­ing a heck of a lot of shear­ers and shed-hands as well as farm­ers.”

An­nie O’Con­nell, Beef + Lamb New Zealand’s na­tional ge­net­ics man­ager, dis­cussed with farm­ers how to get more eco­nomic value from their wool.

But she said there wasn’t much of an ap­petite for the se­lec­tion of sheep for wool qual­ity alone.

Elec­tron­i­cally can­vass­ing of the farm­ers and in­dus­try pro­fes­sion­als at the sem­i­nar, the re­sults showed 60 per cent saw the main block for the up­take of se­lec­tion on wool qual­ity was that the re­turns weren’t enough.

“If you want more money you’ve got to get finer, be­cause stronger wool isn’t at­tract­ing good prices,” O’Con­nell said.

How­ever, she con­ceded if farm­ers were go­ing to go for finer wool, they had to en­sure the mar­ket was there.

But veteran farmer Bradley said a lot of vari­ables were in­volved in what wool farm­ers could pro­duce.

“You can’t chase the mar­ket,” he said.

“Fifty years ago wool was only a bi-prod­uct, with mut­ton in big de­mand. Within four months wool prices went up and mut­ton down.”

Breed­ing “bare” sheep to get rid of wool was a bit of a short­sighted re­ac­tion.

“There’s no sub­sti­tute for wool in the cloth­ing in­dus­try,” Bradley said.

A rep­re­sen­ta­tive from Kells Wool in Hawke’s Bay said there was quite a large price drop at the coarse end of the mar­ket, but there were a lot of fac­tors in­flu­enc­ing price.

“Half a mi­cron can be a 30-cent dif­fer­ence,” she said.

Dan­nevirke’s Mavis Mullins spoke on be­half of Pae­wai/ Mullins Shear­ing and told the farm­ers there was still po­ten­tial in what they were al­ready grow­ing.

“Wool is a great prod­uct. Wool is what I live for.”

Pres­sures on the in­dus­try in­cluded meat­less meat, wool­less sheep and con­sumer ac­tivism, Mullins said.

The fourth gen­er­a­tion in the fam­ily shear­ing busi­ness now run by daugh­ter Aria, Mullins at­tended a Van­guard fo­rum at Stan­ford Univer­sity, look­ing at what wool could of­fer.

The fo­rum was to­tally fo­cused on cross-breed fi­bre and strong wools.

“The world re­ally is mov­ing to­wards nat­u­ral fi­bres, with com­pa­nies such as Tesla and IKEA, em­brac­ing it.

“There are surf­boards made out of wool and resin, with cham­pion surfer Kelly Slater us­ing wool surf­boards,” she said.

“There’s also a huge busi­ness for wool yoga mats, with the num­ber of global yoga prac­ti­tion­ers in the mil­lions.

“I’m quite buoyed by how close sci­en­tists are to de­con­struct­ing wool to re­con­struct [for other uses]. The wool job is go­ing to be all right and I do be­lieve in it and we sit right be­side farm­ers.”

How­ever, there were prob­lems fac­ing the shear­ing in­dus­try too, with na­tional train­ing in fail­ure mode, Mullins said.

“It’s a shame,” she said. “At Pae­wai/Mullins we are com­mit­ted to train­ing our own staff, but there are pres­sures on our side of the in­dus­try and Aria now has 20 per cent of in­ter­na­tional staff in her sheds, that’s about the norm.

“New Zealand shear­ers can go to Aus­tralia and earn more than they can here, with shear­ers earn­ing $7 a sheep in Nor­way.

“But our big­gest com­pe­ti­tion for staff is Work and In­come New

It’s se­ri­ous when farm­ers are send­ing stock to the freez­ing works with their wool on.

Farmer John Bradley

Zealand [Min­istry of So­cial De­vel­op­ment],” Mullins said.

“We’ve got a sys­tem which is an al­ter­na­tive. So if we can’t get the peo­ple we need, we have to make them and that re­quires farm­ers to be pa­tient and ac­cept­ing of learner stands.”

Ad­dress­ing the elephant in the room, the pay rise for shear­ers, Mullins con­ceded it was over­due, de­spite the price of wool be­ing down.

“As a com­mu­nity and pri­mary sec­tor, we are all in this to­gether,” she said.

Mullins said she was con­cerned about the num­ber of lambs that went to slaugh­ter woolly.

“It’s an is­sue for con­trac­tors and im­pacts on plan­ning, but we un­der­stand,” she said.

The Shear­ing Con­trac­tors As­so­ci­a­tion put up pay rates for shear­ers by 25 per cent and Aria said she thought it “was pretty harsh on farm­ers”.

“I to­tally agree with farm­ers who would have liked to see the rise come in over three years, but our back is against the wall,” she said.

But Mullins said con­trac­tors couldn’t dodge the in­crease.

“If we don’t pay it, we’ll have no staff,” she said.


Farm­ers and ru­ral pro­fes­sion­als packed the Dan­nevirke Ser­vices and Cit­i­zens Club for the Beef + Lamb New Zealand wool sem­i­nar.

Dan­nevirke’s Mavis Mullins speak­ing at the Beef + Lamb New Zealand wool sem­i­nar in Dan­nevirke.

An­nie O’Con­nell, Beef + Lamb New Zealand’s ge­net­ics man­ager.

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