WORLD sheep and wool council director Ben Watts says the future of Australia’s wool industry can be enhanced by more international collaboration – especially in global wool marketing.
Speaking at a national farm food safety conference in Launceston last week, Mr Watts entered the “wool future” debate by suggesting that although consumers were already seeking ethical products, the Australian wool industry was at risk of losing its opportunity to sell to them if it failed to act collaboratively.
The British Retail Consortium last month signalled that ethical consumerism in the United Kingdom had grown by 15 per cent in recent years to reach 35.5 billion pounds in value, of which ethical clothing was the fastest growing category, with sales 71 per cent higher than that in the previous year.
“Why is it that when most Australian wool growers are ethical producers their story is not being told?” Mr Watts asked.
“For too long wool has been shackled in tradition – we have a product that consumers already want.”
He said the wool industry should change from an approach based on selling into a market to an approach based on partnering with others already involved in the market.
Mr Watts said the success of an “informal” collaborative vertically integrated company he set up with fellow NSW producers and the 20 per cent per annum growth of The Merino Company demonstrated that collaboration worked.
Mr Watts comments came as British Retail Consortium policy director Jane Milne, confirmed she welcomed Australian wool industry partners to help develop a market for improved welfare Merino and fine wools.
“Animal welfare groups and consumers here in the UK are particularly concerned regarding the continuation of surgical mulesing,” she said in a letter obtained by Rural Press penned to the National Council of Wool Selling Brokers last month.
“While this is a major challenge, it also represents a significant opportunity for the Australian Wool industry to play a leading role in responding to changing global customer requirements and attitudes,” she said,
“We wish to work with you in your efforts to develop truly sustainable wool sources that take account of modern animal welfare requirements,” it said,
Earlier Mr Watts said Australia’s shrinking wool industry – now down to production of less than 300 million kilograms and 43,000 growers – meant Australia could no longer afford to market by itself but should team with their fellow wool producing nations, South Africa, New Zealand and South America.
Western Australian Rural Women’s Award 2009 recipient Kirsten Skraha, supported Mr Watts’ comments and said the future generation of farmers would have to engage more in the marketplace to be as successful as were the past generations.
She said young farmers should seek to understand what consumers want.
The ninth world sheep and wool congress will be held in Sydney next year from April 6-10.
Representatives from 14 countries will attend.