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Eyeing opportunities for sustainable and ethical wool

WoolWorks New Zealand has announced it is forming a new division to develop new opportunities and grow the market value for wool.

As well as being New Zealand’s sole provider of wool scouring services, WoolWorks is the world’s largest wool scourer.

The company currently runs two 24/7 wool scouring plants – in Clive and at Washdyke near Timaru.

Its third plant in Awatoto – a coastal suburb near Napier – was severely damaged in Cyclone Gabrielle earlier this year and is currently inoperable.

WoolWorks chairman Rob Hewett told the Times-Age the Awatoto plant had two metres of water surge through it during the flooding.

The company aims to have the Awatoto plant up and running by the end of this year and is in the process of sourcing replacement materials and equipment from overseas.

“From our three wool scourers, our total kilograms of wool that we will scour this year will be down on what we would normally do but – by and large – there is enough wool being scoured today to meet all our customer’s requirements,” Hewett said.

The new division, WoolWorks Ventures, aims to create opportunities through innovation and supply chain efficiencies to drive revenue back inside the farm gate, he added.

“The problem we have at the moment is the high volumes of poor quality wool,” said Palle Petersen – general manager of PGG Wrightson’s wool export arm, Bloch and Behrens.

“So if the new WoolWorks initiative involves finding a local use for that type of wool – perhaps house insulation – and if they can influence the government to start using wool insulation in all government buildings and state housing, then that would be a great way to hopefully lift the price of those poorer type and to increase awareness of the benefits of wool.”

WoolWorks announcement follows its decision to decarbonise its Timaru facility earlier this year, replacing coal with electricity to power the site.

The company said $9.5 million was invested to replace the coal-fired boiler with an electric boiler, and understands the plant is the only second early-stage textile processor in the world to be decarbonised.

WoolWorks’ drive for sustainability is illustrated by its wool scouring process, which utilises continuously reused and recycled water with reduced power consumption.

“Our mission is to elevate New Zealand wool as a natural, sustainable, and ethical fibre of value to consumers who seek products with these attributes,” Hewett said.

“As a global leader in early-stage wool processing, WoolWorks agrees that this situation must be addressed. These changes are about doing what we can to help lift returns for farmers.

“We can see several significant growth opportunities to enhance aspects of the value chain from the farm through to the end manufacturers and their customers.”

In tandem with the announcement about its new division, WoolWorks’ long-term chief executive Nigel Hales has been elevated to the new
role of company president.

Meanwhile, chief operating officer Tony Cunningham will take on the role of chief executive of WoolWorks operations, while Rosstan Mazey has been promoted to lead the newly-created WoolWorks Ventures division.

Moving forward, WoolWorks intends to continue to expand and improve its core activities.

“With a global move to natural and sustainable fibres through new and innovative products, models, and changes in regulations, including eco-standards, New Zealand strong wool is set to find a more meaningful place in a rapidly evolving and changing marketplace for interior textiles and emerging opportunities,” Hewett said.

“Much work is going on in the background to ensure that this happens, and the structural changes that we are making at WoolWorks are all about realising these opportunities.”

Hewett described WoolWorks as a business tied to the fortunes of strong wool farmers during a time when there is significant land pressure for forestry in certain parts of the country.

“There’s an overlay of that it’s been uneconomic to grow strong wool in recent years, it’s become a by-product of farming, and the main output of sheep production is sheep meat now.”

Hewett believes that farmers relying on sheep meat as their strong suit could end “really ugly” as New Zealand has already seen a downturn in red meat exports this year.

According to an analysis by the Meat Industry Association, New Zealand’s red meat exports dropped by almost a fifth in February due to global economic stresses.

In February this year, NZ exported red meat products worth $885 million, an 18 per cent decline compared to the same time last year.

“We want farmers to make money,” Hewett said, “because if they don’t make money out of wool, they won’t grow it, and we won’t have a business.”

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