Often profitability is thought to be directly linked to how much can be produced on the land available.
However, this is not always the case – especially when wool prices are at historically low levels, and meat prices are no longer as high as we have seen in the past.
Imagine if you could reduce the input cost on farm by cutting out fertilisers, sprays, drenches etc, and then at the same time increase the value of your products.
To many that probably sounds too good to be true, but in fact that is what a dedicated group of Certified Organic sheep farmers are doing very successfully right here in New Zealand.
Yes, production volumes might be lower when farming organically, but the value of the product will be higher and the cost of the farm inputs are likely to be lower.
There are a growing number of people around the world who are prepared to buy organic meat and wool bedding products at a substantial premium, in order to have assurances that what they eat and where they sleep is free of chemical residues.
Over the past 15 years PGG Wrightson’s International Sales & Marketing company, Bloch & Behrens (B+B) has developed a strong market for crossbred Certified Organic wool. At a time when conventional second shear wool is only selling for around $1.75 c/kg clean, B+B is obtaining a premium for certified organic sheep farmers at $4.50 c/kg, and demand is growing, says Bloch & Behrens General Manager, Palle Petersen who also adds “we expect to see significant premiums in place for the long term”.
There is hope amongst organic sheep farmers, that with the changing of the guard in the USA, that market conditions will improve and will open up some fresh opportunities to sell organic meat at a good premium, so overall existing organic farmers are very optimistic about the future.
Another key aspect of organic farming is to improve the general health of the land by no longer using chemicals and finding other ways to improved soil health. Many organic farmers have also had previous health issues themselves, and by switching to organic farming they have first-hand experience of the improved health benefits for them and their families.
When you become a supplier of Certified Organic wool to PGG Wrightson’s / Bloch & Behrens, you are not just selling bales of greasy good colour second shears, lambswool, bellies and pieces. You are selling your story of how you are producing wool that can be used safely in products for people who might have allergies, or who want to ensure that their children are sleeping in a safe environment totally free of any chemical residues. Other consumers are willing to pay a premium for their Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified products because they are concerned about environmental and sustainability issues, so they want to support products that can guarantee the land is looked after in the best possible way for future generations.
We STRONGLY believe that this consumer trend will continue to grow, so we see a great opportunity for farmers who want to embark on this journey. It does take time and effort to get there, but it can be a rewarding process in many ways.
If you think organic farming might be worth exploring, please do not hesitate to contact us via your local PGW Wool Rep, as we would likely be able to arrange for you to have a chat with one of our existing organic farmers, who will be more than happy to share their experiences with you, and provide some guidance on how to proceed.
You can also contact one of the two certifying bodies in NZ, or check out their websites for more information:
Organic certification from both these organisations is recognised by GOTS, so once your wool is certified by Assure Quality or Biogro to the IFOAM or USDA NOP standard, it can be used in GOTS certified products.
School students in a small Central Otago town are learning first-hand about some of the environmental benefits of wool compared to synthetic fibre, which is easier to describe as plastic fibre in today’s world.
Thanks to a challenge put to St Johns School, Ranfurly in 2018 by PGG Wrightson Wool representative Graeme Bell whilst he was there assisting with the educational resource known as “The Wool Shed”, he laid down the challenge to the school to bury two jerseys as an experiment, one jersey being 100% wool, the second being a typical synthetic polar fleece school jersey. The experiment was to see what they would look like once they were dug up 2 years later.
In December 2020 at the schools year 8 graduation day, the same students dug up the two items and the wool jersey whilst had not disintegrated yet it was clear for all to see that the biodegradation process had begun.
Unsurprisingly, the polar fleece was unaffected by 2 years in the ground. “The cotton school logo had gone, but apart from that you could give it a good shake and a wash and it would be good to wear again” says Graeme.
The kids are witnessing first-hand the natural biodegradable properties of wool and cotton fibres.
Graeme’s idea for the challenge was brought about by a similar exercise performed by HRH Prince of Wales who is the global patron for the Campaign for Wool. Prince Charles has buried several jerseys over the years to help promote some of the benefits of wool and you can read more about his activities here.
St Johns School teacher, Geraldine Duncan said that performing this experiment was a great idea and had created a great level of interest from the children. “We hope that the seed it has planted in their young minds will help their environmental consciousness as they grow into responsible young men and women. We are aiming to dig the jerseys up again at the end of 2021” said Geraldine.
The portable “Wool Shed” is part of the Wool in Schools programme promoted by the “Campaign for Wool” and proudly sponsored by PGG Wrightson Wool. Schools can book the container free of charge.
Learn more about the benefits of wool here.
Despite low crossbred prices, growers need to stick to a high standard of wool preparation to maximise wool returns. We need to maintain New Zealand’s reputation for producing a high quality product, which all begins on farm and in the woolshed.
Use of non-scourable raddle on your sheep is likely to cause problems. Non-scourable raddle cannot be washed out. Please ensure the raddle you use is water soluble.
Please ensure bales are kept free from foreign materials. If undetected, this form of contamination has serious implications for manufacturers. This photograph is of a pair of pink and black synthetic socks recently found in a bale at the wool scour.
New Zealand farmers are the first in the world able to breed low methane-emitting sheep.
A ten year breeding programme funded by the Pastoral Greenhouse Gas Research Consortium (PGGRC) and the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre resulted in a breeding value for methane emissions.
AgResearch scientist Dr Suzanne Rowe led the research. She says comparing flocks separated into low and high emitting, on average there was a difference of 11 per cent of methane emitted per unit of feed between high and low methane emitters, with no apparent difference in the health, productivity or profitability of the respective sheep.
“We are seeing more lean growth, carcass yield and wool production in the low methane sheep, without any negative trade-offs.”
This breeding programme, which confirmed methane emissions are heritable, allowed for the establishment of a breeding value for the trait incorporated onto Sheep Improvement Limited database (now nProve) last year.
Stud breeders have embraced the opportunity to measure the methane emissions in their stud animals.
Information from Beef+Lamb New Zealand. More detail:
In mid-October PGG Wrightson held the company’s first wool webinar. An online woolshed meeting, nicknamed the ‘Woolinar,’ we welcomed wool growers from around the country, alongside participants from the United Kingdom, India and Australia.
Aiming to provide growers with relevant sector information, the woolinar heard from PGG Wrightson Chair Rodger Finlay, CEO Stephen Guerin, and senior wool management including General Manager Grant Edwards, and Bloch & Behrens GM Palle Petersen.
Stephen noted that the company has been committed to the wool industry throughout its 165 year history, employs some 100 wool business staff and invests significantly in wool procurement.
Guests Lars Pedersen and Ole Winther, from Danspin, Denmark, provided insight from their perspective as a major international manufacturer and one of the world’s largest users of New Zealand wool.
Feedback indicates support for similar events from growers and the wider industry. Sharing knowledge throughout the supply chain will help bring the sector together to focus on effectively marketing our sustainable fibre and its many unique characteristics.
More woolinars are planned next year.
Photo Left to Right: Rob Cochrane, Grant Edwards, Stephem Guerin, Rodger Finlay and Palle Petersen
Maree, right, was at the Waimai Ram Sale recently where she caught up with Elle Perriam from Allflex, who acknowledged the proceeds from the sale of a donated ram towards ‘Will to Live,’ encouraging more young people to speak up.
Working alongside growers in Waikato, north to the Auckland Harbour Bridge and throughout the Bay of Plenty where she is based, Maree Mather joined PGG Wrightson Wool in May 2015.
In the current challenging climate she says you have to be passionate about wool to remain positive.
“I have farms that have converted to trees, and some looking at options other than wool production. Shearing costs persuaded several farmers into full wool this season, when traditionally this is a second shear region. Fortunately, that has reduced the cost structure more than the returns.
“Now more than ever, growers need to present an excellent product, particularly ensuring their sheep are dry when shorn, and there is no raddle in the wool.
“However, only one per cent of the world apparel fibre market is wool: if that percentage were to increase only slightly we wouldn’t be able to produce enough wool in New Zealand to meet global demand,” she says.
Growing up on a Whangarei farm, Maree started her career with a Diploma in Wool and Wool Technology from Massey University. Experience as a wool handler and crossbred wool classer followed, then travelling the world working in England, Norway and Australia.
These days work entails a mix of auction, shed pricing and contracts.
“With such a huge area there is usually someone doing something with wool, whether it be shearing, wools in school, or understanding test results with clients.
“My most valuable role is being in the shed at shearing. Because shed hands are quite transient, I know someone will ask about preparation, and that is the value of on the job training: understanding why you do something,” she says.
Maree is easily recognisable: apart from the PGG Wrightson branding, her car usually has kayak roof racks on top.
“I am lucky to have the Rotorua lakes so handy and kayaking has taken me to some amazing places that most people can’t access.
“I sit in a car for most of the day, so try to make sure I don’t sit down much otherwise. I always have heaps of projects on the go, which at the moment includes ‘training’ to tramp the Abel Tasman,” she says.
It amazes her that the average kiwi home with synthetic carpet is similar to having 22,000 plastic bags on the floor, by weight.
“We need to make sure facts like that are more widely understood. As an industry, we need to work together to keep the integrity of New Zealand wool. It is at the top of the world market choices and we need to keep it there.
“I’m always on the lookout at cottage industries to find out what people are doing with wool. I bought some expensive felted soap the other day, made on Great Barrier Island: it smells so good,” says Maree.
PGG Wrightson Wool rep and South Island auctioneer Doug McKay was a guest recently at Ashburton’s Longbeach School, which this year chose to focus on wool as their Country Day theme. Presenting to the whole school, Doug talked about the different purposes and types of wool, passing round plenty of samples to give his young audience a hands-on feel for the fibre. Lanolin was one of the subjects for the older children, who also produced some wool related art for a school exhibition.
Photo: Doug McKay (right) with principal Neil Simons (left) and Longbeach School pupils, who are all wearing the school’s merino jersey supplied by True Fleece, the knitwear company established by PGG Wrightson woolgrowers Carl and Tori Uren of Le Bons Bay.
We have plenty more wool news articles on our blog