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Home > Media> 1999

24 September 1999

Perendale NZ Magazine

Quality counts

If you talk to a lot of people in the wool growing business these days, you’ll hear a fairly gloomy message.

‘Wool prices aren’t what they once were. There’s not the market. Why should I bother? How can wool compete with nylon, polypropylene and countless other fibres all hunting the same dollar?’

Look over the fence, though, and you’ll see another group of farmers putting their heads and hands to work into getting most out of their wool. Why?

Because even at the worst of times, wool still makes up at least 20 per cent of net farm income. On most farms, the figure is even higher.

That’s why a growing number of crossbred growers, including Perendale farmers, are signing up to the Fernmark Quality Programme.

Accredited growers, shearers, merchants, brokers and exporters ensure that every step of wool production—from the sheep to the ship—is quality-assured.

Howie Gardner, who farms 4300 ewes plus 1100 replacements, 250 ram hoggets and 70 beef cows and yearlings on 650 ha near Balclutha, is one of the newest Perendale operations to become quality-assured.

After putting it off for about two years, Howie says there was almost nothing that had to be done to get his place accredited.

“I had been dragging my feet about it, but in the end I just thought it was about time for us go ahead and do it,” he says.

“Apart from shifting a couple of fluorescent lights, there was nothing else we had to do.

“Like most sheds probably are, we were already complying with most of the requirements. It was just a matter of tidying a few things up and getting the recognition for it.”

Quality is the key to success in many industries. Every consumer wants a quality item at a reasonable price, and if quality is lacking in wool production, it leads to downtime, breakages, extra costs, and customers that’ll quickly switch to another fibre.

“I think we’ve got a responsibility to try and ensure the future use of our fibre, and through quality assurance we can set our product apart from the others on the world market.”

Although premiums are only amounting to a few cents a kilo at present for crossbred growers, Howie believes there’s a greater chance of accredited wool being sold over non-accredited wool.

“There could be a premium by default in same cases in that a non-accredited clip may be discounted unless it meets quality requirements. In that case, it’s a sort of Irish premium. The accreditation is the buyer’s assurance that the clip’s going to meet those requirements.”

Howie says having to meet requirements makes for a smoother operation.

“I quite enjoyed the shearing this year. The checklist makes for a happier job, and through having to make sure everything’s up to scratch all the way, the whole job went very smoothly with no problems.”

Andrew McLean, at the 400 ha Waitawa Station Partnership near Gisborne, has been on the programme for around two years.

“It’s the way the industry is going,” Andrew says. “Measurements and quality requirements are becoming a bigger part of wool growing.”

He says the few small changes he had to make are now improving the workability of his woolshed.

“We didn’t have to make any big changes, one of the things we had to so was to get rid of all the string around the woolshed. It just makes it a cleaner and easier place to work.

“It only cost between $500 and $600 to set up, but means we’ve got a good working area.”

One of the biggest advantages has been in being able to forward sell some wool last Christmas.

Their shearing gang is also FQP-accredited.

“We’ve found that there’s a difference in their attitude, they have a greater attention to detail, and they seem to take more pride in their work.”

Fernmark Quality Programme manager Kelvin Whall says, like all growers, Perendale farmers who sign up to the programme are making a commitment to the long-term future of the fibre.

“None of us know what the future holds. But we do know that quality will be the platform upon which any future marketing or processing initiatives will be based. In this industry, quality is one of the only measures we can bank on. It’s a strategic given.”

Virtually every broker, most major exporters and many of the larger wool merchants are now ISO and Fernmark quality-assured operators. But they’re keen to see more growers sign up.

“At worst, it costs most growers a few hundred dollars for improved lighting, and there’s also a little extra care and attention to take around the woolshed and yards. But it’s not too much to ask.”

Although price premiums are not assured or promoted as grounds for participation, growers of accredited fine wools are earning useful premiums at auction. That’s on top of the premiums associated with normal measured characteristics like micron, colour and length.

Kelvin says with only around 11 per cent of crossbred growers, and 20 per cent of crossbred wool accredited, greater numbers are needed to command higher premiums from end users.

“Once mills have tried Fernmark Gold wools which have been sourced through the quality programme, they will become committed to their use. For mills with a QA-focus, it will then become inconceivable for them to switch back to non-QA fibres from other sources.”

As an extra incentive, QA growers will also pay a lower commission rate for selling wool through Woolnet—WoolPro’s new on-line trading system. It will cost just 1 cent a kilo, versus 1.5 c/kg for non-accredited sellers.

“Sheep farming these days is about trying to make the most of everything—wherever you can. The Fernmark Quality Programme and Woolnet are two ways you can get that extra income from the wool business. Now that prices aren’t what they once were, it’s even more crucial that if there’s an extra buck to be made from wool, with some minor changes here and there, you make them.”

To sign up to the Fernmark Quality Programme, there’s no joining fee. Just contact your broker, or local WoolPro extension specialist.

“Either you are committed to quality wool production or you’re not. If you are, you should belong to a quality programme. Don’t put it off any longer!”



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