OPINION: One might think that sheep farming is all about red meat, but the sheep farmer's story is not all about protein.
We farm a dual purpose animal and whilst the red meat side is performing, its fibre counterpart has yet to reach its full potential.
Sheep farmers are world leaders in producing fibre, supplying 45 per cent of the world's carpet wool,. We are the world's third-largest wool exporter.
To capture that value behind the farm gate and build the industry's worth of $700 million, we need a wool levy.
The Wool Levy Consultation has been officially launched, and a referendum will be voted on October 10.
Imagine the possibilities, with the average value of our raw wool exports having increased by 38 per cent from 2010 to 2014.
Our China exports have had a lot to do with this, accounting for half of our wool clip, but the last tariff on wool won't be lifted until 2019, which puts natural wool behind the eight ball. Interesting to note that while lamb has climbed from $3.04/kg in 2000, to $5.56/kg in 2014, wool has risen very little by comparison.
An industry good body could ensure wool's intrinsic values are recognised here in New Zealand and abroad. What it is going to come down to is farmers having to look at this, make a decision, and exercise their right to vote.
The Wool Levy Group is being led by the federation's Sandra Faulkner and don't be fooled that it will be like the previous levy, which was voted down in 2009.
They are looking to build the worth of wool to those who grow it, a completely different beast to what the old wool levy was collected for. There are no ties here - it is a fresh start for the industry.
We are in a different place from 2009, with this levy focusing on providing an overview of, and industry investment in, research and development, leveraging off Government industry funding, providing a shared vision for the sector, being a point of initial contact for pan industry information, providing a sounding board for governing bodies as well as corporations and institutions, assisting with trade policy and negotiation to gain market access and reduce barriers to entry, and helping us meet our international obligations to global industry alongside other wool producing nations.
In short: communication, education and innovation.
I am for it personally, and have been right from the start. This is a good mission statement that will help us educate the public on the qualities of our fibre. There are so many attributes that people benefit from having this natural fibre in their lives.
Going back as far as the 1960s, there are so many things that people don't know about our product and what it can do, so we have a lot of catching up to do.
Wool is a great long-lasting fibre that is a natural dehumidifier, biodegradable, non-allergenic and has many other attributes.
We want to inspire and invigorate the new generations of wool growers who are not currently engaging with or influencing the direction of the wool industry.
With 154,000 tonnes of wool produced in New Zealand each year, we are looking at a potential $4.6 million, based on a 3 cents per kilogram levy. This is, of course, with the agreement of the 13,000 sheep farmers eligible to vote.
While polypropylene movement has to some extent taken wool off the market, it is a much more sophisticated fibre these days. Proof of this is the likes of Dolce & Gabbana having bought our wool directly from New Zealand producers, and our own high end designers choosing our product over plastic.
Not only this, but our cross breed wool, for carpet and insulation, is still recognised internationally for its quality and adaptability to colour.
So I hope you are all buying your winter woollies this season and laying down New Zealand wool in your homes. It is a win-win for all.
If people want to find out more, the Waitomo Farming for Profit Group are hosting an evening with Sandra Faulkner on Wednesday, July 16 at 6.30pm, at the Riverside Lodge in Te Kuiti.
* Chris Irons is the meat & fibre chairman for Federated Farmers Waikato.
- Waikato Times