Wednesday, April 24, 2024

In pursuit of one entity, one strategy for wool

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‘A hell of a lot of hui, and not a lot of doey,’ says Tom O’Sullivan, frustrated with wool advocacy as he joins the commercial sector.
Frustrated as he leaves Campaign for Wool NZ, Tom O’Sullivan remains passionate about wool and is still very eager to drive more much-needed change in the NZ wool industry, writes Annette Scott.
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Passionate wool advocate Tom O’Sullivan has left his post with Campaign for Wool for a job he believes will offer greater opportunity to make a difference for the New Zealand strong wool sector.

O’Sullivan joined Campaign for Wool NZ (CFWNZ) in 2019.

A fourth-generation sheep and beef farmer, initially in Mid Canterbury then Hawke’s Bay, he was passionate about wool, despite having graduated with a commerce degree from Lincoln University and initially pursuing his career as the beef marketing manager for Anzco.

“Home on the farm, though, I was very quickly horrified of the lack of return for the effort, risk and money involved in running a big sheep and beef breeding property.    

“I was frustrated where the strong wool sector was going and wanted to make a difference as a farmer for farmers.”

He says 2019 “was the first year we just broke even between the cost to shear and the price we sold for and ever since for five seasons it has cost to shear”.

“It got to me and at the end of the day it got me involved with CFWNZ.” 

Fronting up every day with a truckload pf passion for the industry, O’Sullivan very quickly became the face and voice for CFWNZ, giving strong wool a huge amount of visibility across the nation. 

“I am comfortable I have played a significant role in the campaign’s progression from where we were when I joined to the point where in the past year I believe that wool has had a bigger profile in NZ than it has done for decades.”

He is still very eager to drive more much-needed change in the NZ wool industry.

“However, I feel I no longer have the ability to do so via the Campaign for Wool, so I am very excited about looking at new opportunities now.”

O’Sullivan officially finished with CFWNZ on March 11, having fronted a key joint wool expo between the campaign and Wool Impact at the Upper Clutha A&P show at Wanaka.

“It was just such an amazing note to go out on, there are so many passionate people out there better understanding wool as a quality NZ product and really wanting to use wool in so many ways.”

It is frustration that has triggered O’Sullivan to move on.

“I have been involved and contributed to a number of wool working groups over the years. Not always have I agreed with the way these groups have been established or functioned.

“There’s been effort by industry but nothing to show for it, no strategy despite the formation of Wool Impact, the one single entity, significantly government funded, hand-picked and charged with driving the industry forward. 

“Yes, I see the collaboration of CFWNZ and Wool Impact as being a good thing, but rationalisation of the industry needs to go much further.

“The one entity, one strategy is not happening.”

Passionate about wool, Tom O’Sullivan is a fourth-generation sheep and beef farmer, initially in Mid Canterbury then Hawke’s Bay.

On the farm, “farmers are frustrated, wool is not doing its thing for them, they are voting how they are feeling, shedding sheep, more cattle. It’s very soon going to be too late; we need to drive forward with tangible change now.

“We need an equitable funding model to drive an overarching single entity. It can’t always be funds from growers.

“All making money in the industry need to contribute to the pot that drives the industry. 

“This is my biggest frustration. We need a clear, single strategy that we are all clear on.    

“At the moment there is a hell of a lot of hui, and not a lot of doey. There are still too many with the same fingers in the same pies.

“Calling out a couple, Wools NZ has retracted, they are more in a silo than ever they were – and WRONZ, where are they playing?”

Wool Research of NZ (WRONZ) is sitting on $30 million of farmer funds from the former Wool Board days.

“They say they are keeping it for a rainy day. Well, if this is not a rainy day now for the industry then when will it be?” O’Sullivan said. 

He questioned the level of urgency.

“Sheep numbers are declining, wool breeds are in decline, questions need to be asked of those responsible. What’s happening?

“Wool Impact is a three-year tenure, it’s coming to an end, what happens at the end of the runaway, what happens in the next 10 years?”   

Optimism is driving O’Sullivan’s move to the commercial sector.

Next month he starts his new business development role driving the Floc brand for T&R interior systems.

Floc brings premier wool products from 100% NZ-grown and -manufactured strong wool to interior design, creating innovative use and value for NZ strong wools as acoustic panels.

“Bringing together all the goodness of NZ strong wool into world-leading, innovative and responsible acoustic tiles and launching it to the world is a whole new venture.

“But I feel sceptical to the point that I believe I can influence the industry’s return to resilience more through this exciting commercial opportunity. 

“Wool on walls: the potential is huge both for commercial businesses and residential homes.

“My time with CFWNZ is not lost, but very frustrating to see where the industry has not got to.

“There is a good future for wool and I am very excited to get my teeth into this new venture with massive potential globally for NZ wool.”       

CFWNZ chair Ryan Cosgrove acknowledged O’Sullivan’s time with the campaign. 

“Tom has been an integral part of our organisation since 2019, having served as a dedicated trustee, chair, and most recently as general manager, where he has played a crucial role in actively promoting and advocating for NZ strong wool. 

“We’re really sad to see Tom go as he’s been such an integral part of CFWNZ’s story so far. 

“He has been enthusiastic and driven when it comes to putting wool front and centre of consumers’ minds, hugely passionate, and has always been keen to get out on farm and into our rural communities to yarn with farmers about their challenges.   

“Tom was exceptionally important in getting wool into the mainstream media space as a passionate advocate and voice for wool – especially with his perspective as a grower.

“We are considering how we will fill his responsibilities, but certainly Tom leaves a large gap in the campaign,” Cosgrove said. 

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