A three-year ultra-premium fibre project calling for farmers keen to explore the potential of the $2 billion global cashmere industry has attracted overwhelming interest.
Sustainably Beautiful, a programme to restart the cashmere industry, is led by New Zealand Cashmere and backed by the government, which has committed $900,000 over three years through the Ministry for Primary Industries’ Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund.
NZ Cashmere has partnered with Woolyarns to create the industry, which is essentially in a start-up phase.
NZ Cashmere director and Woolyarns general manager Andy May said the programme focuses on assisting farmers with advice and support structures.
“We know this is a long-term investment for us. We have been here before and are committed to creating value for farmers.
“Through Woolyarns we pioneered the globally successful Perino yarn brand, which underpins the $150m possum fibre industry in NZ today.
“We’re excited by innovation and the opportunity to be doing something similar again.
“This programme aims to help farmers as they enter the industry so they can sustainably farm cashmere-producing goats within their existing farm systems.”
A multimillion-dollar cashmere processing facility has been commissioned at Woolyarns’ Lower Hutt operations, the first of its kind.
“We know this is a long game, we’re investing now and we will support farmers to supply this special fibre,” May said.
NZ Cashmere business development manager Olivia Sanders is working with farmers keen to take part in the establishment of herds as part of their farm systems.
“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 more than 75 years of processing and marketing expertise.
“There are opportunities for farmers to get on board early as breeding properties, pilot farms and growers, and to be a pioneer in NZ’s ultra-premium luxury fibre industry,” Sanders said.
Expressions of interest closed on December 22, but opportunity is still open for interest in the flock programme.
“Interest has been really solid, overwhelming really. We have had particularly good interest in the South Island with lots of people, sheep and beef farmers mainly, looking for an optional revenue stream.
“I’m making my way through more than 40 expression-of-interest forms and for us now it’s about finding the right farmers to join the Foundation Flock programme.”
The selected farms will be supported by NZ Cashmere with technical on-farm support to become breeding properties supplying quality animals as seed stock to grow the industry, while enjoying the raft of benefits cashmere goats bring to their wider farming system, Sanders said.
The benefits of introducing the animals into farm systems go beyond diversification of revenue.
“They include improved pasture utilisation and up to 30% improvement in clover cover, which benefits other stock classes.
“They are also a good form of biological weed control, reducing the use and costs of chemical sprays; an alternative to blanket forestry and a low-impact agricultural diversification for environmental compliance – all topped off with secure long-term fibre contracts at $100-$150 a kilogram.”
Farmers will be required to integrate up to 200 breeding does into their farming system with a commitment of three years to the programme.
Ownership models, including share farming, are available to a limited number of farmers.
Woolyarn’s international marketing manager, Jimad Khan, said cashmere fibre has strong, long-term global demand at the ultra-premium end of the market.
“Cashmere is not a commodity fibre, it historically returns between $110 and $150NZD/kg and, sitting right at the top end of the luxury fibre market, it has a long-standing, loyal customer and consumer following.
“At Woolyarns we have relationships with leading European fashion houses who are looking to source sustainably produced ultra-high end cashmere fibre from NZ farmers.
“These relationships have enabled us to offer long-term fibre contracts through NZ Cashmere so farmers can learn how to produce cashmere to take advantage of this global market demand.
“This is a very stable high-end market,” Khan said.
Key workstreams of the programme include the development of traceability processes so the unique sustainability story and product attributes of the fibre can generate additional value in the market.
NZ Cashmere is working with NZ Cashmere Genetics Ltd, which has been breeding cashmere-producing goats for more than 35 years.
As part of the project, NZ Cashmere Genetics’ David Shaw is working with researchers from AbacusBio on the genetics programme to support the growth of the industry.
The NZ cashmere goat has seen 35 years of genetic gain to produce a resilient, high-performing and hardy animal that can now be farmed in a variety of different areas around NZ, and has a particularly good constitution for underproductive hill country – “all the time lifting the quality of this high-value fibre”, Shaw said.