Name change underlines wool focus 

By Miles Anderson, Federated Farmers Meat & Wool Chairperson

Federated Farmers wants to play a key role in ramped-up sector wide collaboration on wool initiatives - and that’s reflected in a name change.

By unanimous vote of delegates from our 24 provinces who met in Wellington this week, the Meat & Fibre Council and industry group is now the Meat & Wool Council and industry group.

It’s actually a return to the name that was used more than two decades ago.  ‘Wool’ was switched out to ‘Fibre’ back then when mohair from angora goats was on the rise.  We were looking to be inclusive.

But goat farmers now have their own section within Federated Farmers and everyone wanted to get back to using the name ‘wool’ – with all its internationally recognised associations – super-warm, natural, sustainable, hypoallergenic, flame-retardant, etc.

If you say fibre to the younger generation these days, they think you mean the fibre optics that speed up their internet connection. And fibre has unfortunate connotations with microfibres and the growing problem of long-lasting strands of synthetic fabrics that are ending up in our oceans and marine organisms.

If your only source of information was mainstream media, you’d be forgiven for thinking the only thing happening with New Zealand wool at the moment – with the exception of merino – was that the bottom had dropped out of the market and all involved were sitting on their bums with fingers crossed the Chinese would start buying again in the volumes they were two years ago.

Yes, prices for crossbred/strong wool have halved since mid-2015 but farmers and downstream companies are fighting hard to find new and innovative products to soak up the warehoused clip and spark revenues.  More than a dozen of these industry leaders put on displays at a Crossbred Wool Showcase that Federated Farmers organised and hosted in Wellington this week.  Sponsored by NZ Wool Services International, PGG Wrightson and Cavalier Bremworth, it was but a sample of what’s going on in the industry.

Among exhibitors were Inter-weave and Woolyarns Ltd., who produce high end, quality fabrics for export and supply Air NZ with transportation fabrics, meeting the highest flame retardant criteria. Wright Wool supplies 100 % NZ wool to Paragon, who are based in Georgia - the heart of textile manufacturing in America. Paragon has created a specialised knop which is used for home insulation. They also export wool to Thailand and the Georgia based Delos Company to create custom carpets and rugs. Other exhibitors were Wayby Wools, who specialise in cot undelays and yoga mats, and Stansborough, suppliers of wool garments used in movies such as the Lord of the Rings, and to high-end boutiques in London and New York.

The Feds’ Ruapehu President Lyn Neeson, who co-owns specialist woollen blanket maker ShearWarmth, presented Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor with one of the blankets to pass on to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for when her baby is born.  Baby clothes from Wairarapa-based Merino Kids were also given.  O’Connor, other MPs, diplomats and industry stakeholders were highly impressed with the wool innovation and acumen on display and stayed on until the end of the evening.

The Meat and Wool Council gave the section’s executive the mandate to form a collaboration industry group to address crossbred wool issues.

There was some discussion at the Meat & Wool Council of putting up the option of farmers returning to paying some sort of levy to co-ordinate crossbred wool marketing and research, and the need for post-farm gate players to match it.  But that’s parked for now.

We want to concentrate on the new collaboration group and how far we can get by working together to better tell the excellent story of strong wool’s qualities and potential to the wider community.