Warm fuzzies for PM, but with a catch

Marlborough Express - - FOOD - GER­ARD HUTCHING

Prime Min­is­ter Jacinda Ardern’s baby won’t want for warmth on his or her ar­rival thanks to gifts of some of New Zealand’s finest wool prod­ucts.

But they come with a small catch - the fal­ter­ing cross­bred wool in­dus­try which ac­counts for 95 per cent of the na­tional clip wants Ardern’s sup­port.

Un­der siege from an­i­mal rights groups and out-com­peted by syn­thetic prod­ucts, the coarse wool sec­tor is in cri­sis.

Bro­kers have de­scribed last sea­son as the worst in 50 years, and farm­ers have been barely able to cover the costs of shear­ing their sheep. Prices per kilo­gram are just un­der $3. By con­trast prices for fine or merino wool are on a high at about $28/kg.

From 1850 to the turn of the 20th cen­tury, wool was New Zealand’s

Wool and other nat­u­ral fi­bres are won­der prod­ucts and gov­ern­ment can help take them to the next level ... Win­ston Peters

lead­ing ex­port prod­uct; to­day it is in 18th place with an­nual earn­ings of $522 mil­lion in 2017.

Agri­cul­ture Min­is­ter Damien O’Con­nor re­ceived the gifts on Ardern’s be­half at a Fed­er­ated Farm­ers show­case to pro­mote the virtues of wool. Lyn Nee­son, the di­rec­tor of King Coun­try busi­ness ShearWarmth wool blan­kets, pre­sented O’Con­nor with a white blan­ket called Tokir­ima and a teal blue one dubbed Land to Sea.

She urged the Gov­ern­ment to take con­crete mea­sures to im­prove re­turns to the hard pressed sec­tor.

New Zealand com­pa­nies which used a lot of wool, such as car­pet man­u­fac­tur­ers, should pay a fairer price for the prod­uct, she said.

Nee­son said Fed­er­ated Farm­ers was de­vel­op­ing a new strat­egy which might in­clude a cam­paign for the re­turn of a levy for mar­ket­ing and pro­mo­tion.

The last at­tempt to in­tro­duce one was in 2014 when 56.8 per cent of farm­ers voted against it, even though it had the sup­port of Fed­er­ated Farm­ers, the New Zealand Wool­bro­kers As­so­ci­a­tion, the Na­tional Coun­cil of New Zealand Wool In­ter­ests, Wool Re­search Or­gan­i­sa­tion and the Cam­paign for Wool.

Ranged against them were the New Zealand Merino Com­pany and Wools of NZ. The pro­posal was a com­pul­sory pay­ment of 2.75c/kg, with the to­tal amount raised $4.2m a year.

O’Con­nor told the au­di­ence at the show­case the wool in­dus­try needed a ‘‘bomb’’ un­der it. He sug­gested it was time to take the gloves off, to run a cam­paign mar­ry­ing im­ages of syn­thetic prod­ucts with a child cov­ered in ‘‘cruddy’’ oil, against one of a child and a lamb gam­bol­ing in a field. ‘‘We can’t af­ford not to have a levy,’’ he said.

Be­fore the elec­tion, Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Win­ston Peters said his party would stop syn­thetic car­pets be­ing in­stalled in gov­ern­ment-funded build­ings by spec­i­fy­ing wool car­pets and the use of wool in­su­la­tion.

He pointed out that even in Par­lia­ment there was more syn­thetic than wool car­pet.

‘‘Wool and other nat­u­ral fi­bres are won­der prod­ucts and gov­ern­ment can help take them to the next level by spec­i­fy­ing them as prod­ucts of choice,’’ he said.

PHOTO: FRANCES FER­GU­SON/STUFF

Monique Nee­son of ShearWarmth with some of the com­pany’s blan­kets.

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