Monday, February 26, 2024

Strong wool farmers urged to keep the faith

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Industry leaders speak of better times ahead, asking growers to stay positive despite low returns.
Pāmu manages more than 100 farms, totalling close to 360,000ha and spanning sheep, beef, dairy, deer, forestry and horticulture.
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Two strong wool industry leaders are urging farmers to keep the faith, saying there are signs of a reversal of fortunes within the beleaguered sector after years of poor pricing.

Wool Impact chief executive Andy Caughey and Bremworth chief executive Greg Smith shared with  farmers at a Beef + Lamb field day in North Waikato their vision of how the strong wool sector can be resurrected.

The day – titled  What’s the Future of Wool: Two sides to the story – was held at Lochiel Station near Glen Murray and attracted close to 80 farmers.

Lochiel Station manager Kim Robinson told farmers earlier in the day that he had switched sheep breeds from Coopworth to the wool-shedding Wiltshire because it was costing him more to shear the sheep than the returns he was receiving for the wool.

He was also getting penalised for colouring in the wool, which he said was caused by the wet, humid climate the sheep were farmed in.

“The straw that broke the camel’s back was we had 258 bales of wool – $67,000 for the wool and $87,000 to shear them.”

He is now in his third season farming Wiltshire genetics with his ewe flock comprising 2500 pure Wiltshire, 3500 first cross Wiltshire and 4800 Coopworth ewes.

Caughey told farmers there was reason for optimism despite the poor prices they are receiving.

“There’s good reason to skip and have confidence that, through the initiatives that we are starting to undertake, the next couple of years could start to see new and emerging opportunities for strong wool and help in resurrecting the strong wool sector.”

Local farmer and Coopworth breeder Kate Broadbent said the “burning question” in the room was that if strong wool innovation is happening and it is a product that the world needs, then these companies are currently getting their wool for free because the price is so low.

She said plastic alternatives should be taxed to help the wool sector.

“We’re all excited with what you have to say and we’re all on board, but there’s a huge gap in what we’re getting now and what we need.”

Caughey told her that, globally, countries are bringing in legislation that will account for the environmental impact of the disposal of synthetic carpet at the end of its life.

This will have a significant impact on companies using this type of carpet.

King Country Wiltshire breeder Peter Foss was more sceptical, telling Caughey he had no reason to believe him.

“I believed someone 30 years ago and thought things were going to improve so I hung in with my Romneys. Here we are 30 years later and you’re telling me the same story. What incentive have I got to believe you?”

Broadbent told him it was not the same story because the world is changing – but he understood his cynicism.

“We are still living in hope, none of us are cashing a big wool cheque yet, but I like to think that we have good people working and supporting us until we get there.”

Another farmer said a wool price of $10/kg is “where it needs to be”.

Caughey said they are engaging with brands and are in discussions about sustainable, long-term pricing for growers.

“Our challenge is to de-commodify our strong wool clip. We only have 100,000 tonnes, we are a very small market, we are less than 1% of the global fibre market.

“We need to treat it differently than just trying to sell it through an auction.”

Bremworth chief executive Greg Smith thanked the “stubborn buggers” who had stuck with wool.

“I’m not here to say stick with strong wool because we would not have a business without it – I’m here to say that we believe there will be a business with it – and you’re not wrong, you’re not making any money off it.

“Regardless of the choices you make, we’re all in on strong wool.”

He outlined the work Bremworth is doing in the sector, saying it shows the support they have for the sector.

“We’re trying our best and as part of that, we expect the fortunes for you all to change as well, as our fortunes change. As the business becomes more profitable, we can pay more for the wool.”

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