Friday, April 12, 2024

Thinking small to think big about wool’s future

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Industry groups working at the level of particles, powders and pigments in the search for new markets.
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Investment in world class research that will create new and innovative uses for New Zealand strong wool is making meaningful progress.

As the specialist funder of post-harvest research, development and information transfer for the New Zealand wool industry, the Wool Research Organisation of NZ (WRONZ) it is acutely aware of the need for innovative solutions, alongside stabilising traditional markets.

“Only then will the wool price have a chance to recover,” WRONZ chair and North Canterbury sheep and beef farmer Andy Fox said.

“It is frustrating to see the continuing weak strong wool prices and with the situation compounded by the recent decline in sheep meat pricing, many farmers across the country will struggle to break even this year.

“We all know the story. The strong wool sector has faced increasing competition from synthetic fibres since the 1960s, and especially in the last 20 years. 

“At the same time, we’ve seen a significant decline in sheep numbers and the amount of wool produced.”

Despite genuine intentions, the wool industry has also seen the ambitions of many ventures remain unfulfilled over the years.

Fox said while there are encouraging signals that demand for natural sustainable products will prompt a return to wool, this has yet to translate into a recovery of the wool price.

“It’s meant many farmers are wary of promises, pledges and plans to fix the sector.”

That’s why, he said, WRONZ is investing in world-class research that will create new and innovative uses for NZ strong wool.

“We’ve been determined to walk the talk and deliver tangible outcomes for growers and the sector.

“And we’re making meaningful progress,” Fox said.

Under the New Uses programme, WRONZ has been able to deconstruct strong wool to a cellular level to create new products in particles, powders, pigments and cortex. 

These retain the performance benefits of wool in a wide range of applications from personal care to printing. 

The programme has recently made a significant technical breakthrough in the pigments field that could lead to the opening of very large market sectors that had not previously been anticipated. 

“We’re not yet in a position to share any more details on this development due to commercial sensitivity and the need to protect intellectual property, but we believe it is ground-breaking,” Fox said.

In parallel, WRONZ is exploring what options exist for it to leverage its IP to benefit the NZ wool industry.

This includes exploring the development and operation of a mid-sized production facility.

“An independent analysis highlights a good commercial opportunity that we are determined to leverage as quickly as possible for the benefit of the wider sector and in particular growers.

“Once we’ve proven the initial production plant, we can quickly move to a bigger production facility with this larger facility having the ability to make a significant positive change in the wool industry.

“While it’s tough out there for farmers, we believe these developments offer some light at the end of the tunnel.”

Fox said WRONZ is dedicated to finding markets and opportunities that will return the most value for growers, lift the price of wool at the farm gate, and capture as much margin as possible within NZ. 

“We remain focused on doing everything we can to play our part in helping turn around the sector’s fortunes.”

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