Friday, December 8, 2023

Plan to revitalise wool sector

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Leadership of the strong wool industry is set for a shake-up if recommendations in a long-awaited report on how to revitalise it are acted on.
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The report also recognises it can learn from its fine wool neighbour and what it has achieved while strong wool prices and demand have gone in the opposite direction.

Vision and Action for New Zealand’s Wool Sector, a Wool Industry Project Action Group report, says a strong wool sector governance and co-ordination group must be established, involving representatives from the sector, value chains and Government with farmers, researchers, exporters, manufacturers, merchants and marketers.

PAG chairman John Rodwell says the new group’s first task will be to create a short list of people and organisations capable of developing a market-focused investment case and strategic roadmap for strong wool.

The idea is to partner with global experts capable of providing an outside-in market perspective to identify opportunities and an investment case to take advantage of them.

“By putting consumers and end-users at the heart of what we do and understanding their needs we will be able to position New Zealand strong wool as the high-value natural fibre of choice,” the report says.

“This will increase demand for strong wool and lift profitability for all parts of the sector.”

The sector has lacked necessary investment, which has led to a drop in development capabilities in the past 20 years.

To rectify that it needs to rebuild capability in skills training, research and development, accreditation and standards, data and statistics and sector connection and coordination.

It recommends appointing an executive officer, with governance provided by the new leadership group, to help drive that work.

The lack of profitability and investment has seen sheep numbers fall 45% since 1995 from 45 million to 27m in 2018, with wool production down 51%, from 213m kg clean equivalent to 105m.

But NZ is still the world’s largest strong wool exporter with enough critical mass to take advantage of shifting market attitudes.

Consumers and big brands are looking for natural fibres that have a strong environmental story and large-scale supply chains.

The sector can meet those needs if it can engage with those global consumers and collaborate to renew investment.

Rodwell says the covid-19 pandemic has been a disrupter but also provides opportunities.

“A lot of the existing wool trade has been shut down with dramatic consequences on product movement and prices. Its impact has been profound. But our opportunity in the post-covid world has been enhanced.”

NZ has never been more in the global spotlight in terms of attitudes to health and safety and is respected for that, which will provide greater opportunities for exporters of primary products, including wool.

The report recognises the strong wool sector has a lot to learn from its fine wool equivalent.

“The fine wool sector has demonstrated the success of consumer-focused business models and strong connections between growers and partners.

“These connections provide a channel to understand and deliver to consumer needs across the supply chain and ensure that their products truly resonate with the end user.

“Fine wool farmers understand who uses their wool and that gives them a sense of pride and purpose.”

Agriculture Minister Damien Damien O’Connor says the report aims to set the strong wool sector on a more sustainable and profitable path.

“While the Project Action Group’s report paints a grim but accurate picture of a sustained lack of investment and breakdown of wool industry structures it outlines a vision for the sector and a way forward. 

“I now want to see the sector step up. There’s no single idea or Government policy to solve the wool sector’s problems. For this work to have real impact, greater participation and ownership by the wool sector is needed.”

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