Friday, December 8, 2023

SWAG defends itself amid criticism

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The Strong Wool Action Group (SWAG) formed to lead the languishing wool sector out of its doldrums is off to a strong and promising start, says group chair Rob Hewett.
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But not all industry stakeholders agree, expressing concern that SWAG lacks fair and industry-wide representation.

National Council of New Zealand Wool Interests chair Craig Smith says the council believes it has been left-field blindsided.

“As a national council representing 80% of post-farm gate stakeholders, including brokers, merchants, woolscourers, testers and exporters, as a collective group it was never invited to be represented,” he said.

“We have been left completely out of the loop and in the dark.

“I understand there are some great people in SWAG, but who is representing the industry?

“Without industry support it is not going to work and it’s very hard to give support to something the industry has no idea of what’s going on.”

Hewett says it is only a matter of time before SWAG is ready to go out to the industry.

“We expect to have a Zoom to get stakeholder engagement,” he said.

“We will be communicating transparently with them in the very near future.

“We have had one meeting and we are really getting our act together, things are moving quite fast.

“We have established the framework, sub-committees are in place and looking into terms of reference and accountability.

“We are not too far away from going out to the wider industry.”

The renewed focus on stimulating consumer-led innovation aims to define the problem and find the solution.

SWAG is a collaboration of representatives from across the primary sector who bring a broad range of skills and experience together to address the challenges facing strong wool and lead change in the sector.

Hewett says a chief executive will be appointed within the next two weeks and he expects projects will be identified and on the table for government approval early next year.

The priority will be for genuine consumer-led projects, with a market, identified as ready for a step further.

Hewett says the Project Action Group (PAG) recognised that the strong wool sector can learn from its fine wool neighbour and what it has achieved, while for 20 years strong wool prices and demand have gone in the opposite direction.

“I’m aware not everyone across the industry will agree but the fine wool model is one we can’t ignore,” he said.

“Innovation in the wool sector is in fine wool.

“If we want scalable consumer-led innovation that’s where it’s got to come from, there’s no secret in that.

“We (SWAG) is a group of independent industry aligned people passionate about wool.

“We are not industry-good, but we are accountable to those that fund us.

“That’s been deliberate given there’s been so little action over the last 20 years, it’s time to break the mould.

“We will be informing, and we will make decisions and recommendations that from our view are in the best interest of the industry.

“We will not be afraid to make decisions that may require change to existing industry structure that existing (industry) players have not done in 20 years.”

Hewett says while SWAG members will receive a payment, it’s certainly not what they are worth, it’s just a recognition. 

He says the meat processor led genesis had been discussed at meat sector level over the past five years.

“This is not a meat sector takeover,” he said.

“We need the sheep sector to be strong and we need wool strong to help support meat.

“The (PAG) report prompted thinking and just happened to come in tandem with the report.”

Federated Farmers’ meat and wool chair William Beetham says elected farmer representatives have indicated 100% support for SWAG’s work.

“The feedback has been great, let’s get on with it and move forward,” Beetham said.

“There’s a strong will from growers for us (Feds) to really get close and support SWAG and to be the conduit back to farmers.

“With the skills, knowledge and experience in SWAG, they will be aware action is needed quickly and farmers as stakeholders have the confidence they will do that.

“Most importantly, we see this a great opportunity to get behind this group, support it to drive action and move forward.

“It’s going to be up to industry to engage in the process now.”

In May, red meat exports topped a record $1 billion high.

“If we can imitate the experiences and successes of the red meat sector and implement it into our wool sector, do it even better, that’s where I see great opportunity to make change,” Beetham said.          

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