Saturday, March 2, 2024

Warning about wool as veteran bids industry farewell

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PGG Wrightson’s Allan Jones retiring after almost six decades in the wool industry.
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PGG Wrightson North Island wool manager Allan Jones retires in December after 57 years in the wool industry.

After beginning as a wool trainee in 1966, he worked for Dalgety NZ until 1986 and then for Wrightson Ltd until the formation of PGG Wrightson in 2005.

Three years learning the basics in Timaru, his family’s base, were followed by 12 years in Whanganui before he moved to Napier, where he has remained.

In 1981 he was offered the job as assistant centre manager for Dalgety in Hawke’s Bay.

One year later Dalgety and Hawke’s Bay Farmers became one, and Jones became operations manager for the new company.

It was the first of a series of mergers that continued through the 1980s and ’90s and ended up creating PGG Wrightson.

“Sheep numbers were down, and plenty of change was happening. Each merger meant a double-up in staff,” Jones said. 

“Somehow I always managed to come out with a really good job, with extra responsibility.”

Special-purpose work during that period included sourcing Merino sheep in Central Otago for growers in the North Island who wanted to supply wool for a Glengyle contract with Dalgety.

Later, to boost and differentiate the sector, the company sold its fine-wool business to Merino NZ. 

In the 2000s the company attempted to float Wool Partners Co-operative as a new consolidated marketing entity. Again, Jones was heavily involved.

“I was the taxi driver for the North Island roadshow presenters, including Theresa Gattung and Sir Brian Lochore.

“Although it didn’t succeed, a sizable number of growers raised more than $40 million for Wool Partners, which in hindsight should have been enough.

“There was general surprise that it didn’t get across the line, though the prospectus required larger numbers.

“For some growers the Wool Board monopoly was still fresh in mind.
“They were nervous about a single organisation with so much power, even though that wasn’t what was planned.”

Not going ahead was a mistake and a crucial point for the industry, Jones said.

“We should have set a more moderate target or gone ahead anyway. 

“It would have quickly grown momentum. It was an opportunity lost.”

His thoughts on the future of wool include more collaboration around the industry instead of competing for a dwindling supply.

“While that has started, it hasn’t gone far enough yet. 

“We had 70 million sheep, we now have 25 million and dropping. 

“Where we once had eight selling centres, we are now down to a few exporters, brokers and private merchants. 

“Everybody is fighting over a dwindling clip. We risk going down to the last man standing.”

Decreasing volumes of wool into the scour and to the mills exposes the whole supply chain, marketing and processing, to drying up.

“What the grower produces out on the land, and the flow-on from that, effects everything. 

“If we don’t change in the next few years, wool will just be a commodity. 

“Unless growers can see a future, and make some money out of it, the industry will continue to struggle.”

Jones said wool was always plentiful but with widespread land use changes that is no longer the case.

New Zealand could become like the United Kingdom where wool is an unwanted by-product of the sheepmeat industry.

“In another five years you won’t have the quantity or good enough quality, stylish wool to meet requirements of overseas customers.

“If the sheep numbers don’t improve, there won’t be much wool around,” he said.

His retirement plans include more family time with travel, golf, bowls and vintage car restoration.

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