A new dawn for New Zealand's struggling strong wool sector or déjà vu all over again?
That's the message to the country's strong woolgrowers from Tom O'Sullivan - chair of the Campaign for Wool (CFW).
The Campaign for Wool NZ (CFWNZ), an offshoot of the global movement to promote wool, was established in NZ in 2011. Its aim is to increase the value of wool through education and awareness programmes. CFWNZ has just launched a new short-term strategy, which O'Sullivan is confident will lift the fortunes of NZ's struggling strong wool growers.
He concedes that there is no silver bullet to wool's current woes but says to deliver effective and sustainable growth requires immediate action.
"Farmers have been grappling with the cost of shearing for years. In my own case, last year it cost me $30,000 - after selling the wool - to shear my sheep," O'Sullivan says. "That's a bloody expensive welfare cost."
He says that unless the economics of strong wool can be turned around, more and more farmers will either move to shedding breeds like Wiltshires or exit the sheep sector completely - with more good farmland lost to forestry.
"It won't be one single thing that makes the difference," O'Sullivan told Rural News. "It will be everything coming together to create a groundswell of demand."
However, he believes, as the world moves towards more sustainable, environmentally friendly products, now is the best opportunity that strong wool has ever had.
"The world is on the cusp of a massive environmental crusade for which wool can provide solutions," O'Sullivan says. "The future is extremely bright if we walk the talk to promote and buy wool products, which can help protect the environment."
He is adamant that to change the fortunes of NZ's strong wool industry, a new transformational strategy for the future direction of the industry is needed.
"Strategy must come before structure or tactical pieces of work," O'Sullivan adds. "That's why CFWNZ has been quietly working with Auckland-based industry strategists Richards Partners to produce the framework for an overarching strategy."
He says the aim of the new strategy is for CFWNZ to be the wool information conduit for both consumers and industry stakeholders. It takes a two-pronged attack - tackling both consumers and the industry - across four areas:
- Communication and education
- Digital advancement - to amplify its message
- Insight development
- Strengthen partnership
O'Sullivan says the two-pronged approach is important because growing consumer demand for woollen products is only part of the solution.
"We also need to ensure we support and develop industry to drive value back through the supply chain to the grower," he explains. "If there's no industry, there's no need to grow consumer demand."
O'Sullivan warns that if nothing changes, the strong wool sector doesn't have a lot of time.
"A fractured industry has always been an issue - infighting and lack of co-ordinated strategic direction," he adds. "A transformational strategy is needed and the mandate from industry to support it.
"Without it, nothing will change."
Full Time Job
NZ strong wool growers are sick of talk – they want “action, honesty andaccountability.”
Tom O'Sullivan is not only chairman of CFWNZ - which he took on in 2019 - he is also the organisation's fulltime development officer.
O'Sullivan sold his Hawke's Bay farm in late June, and while he is looking to buy another property, he recently renewed his contract with CFWNZ for another year.
One of his key focuses over the next 12 months is to triple the organisation's budget from the $500,000 raised in 2020.
"CFWNZ's funding effectively comes from farmers via a voluntary contribution of only 1cent/kg at the point of testing," he told Rural News.
"However, not all suppliers are part of the scheme and they do have option to opt out of paying the CFW levy."
O'Sullivan estimates that around only 40% of the current NZ strong wool clip makes the contribution to CFWNZ. He aims to get that up to 80%.
"CFWNZ has a vital role to play in bringing all industry stakeholders together," he says. "Being non-commercial allows us to speak with no vested interest in the industry. We are an impartial and industry-good voice - for benefit of all stakeholders."
O'Sullivan says NZ strong wool growers are sick of talk.
"They want action, honesty and accountability," he adds.
"For now, we want growers to read and absorb our strategy and share it with others. We'd really love farmers to join us."