16 May 2001

Media Release
Southland Times Farming Supplement

New WoolPro from July
Giving sheep farmers more of a competitive edge

by Terry Heiler, chairman WoolPro

From July 1, WoolPro – the company set up by the Wool Board in 1998 to fund technology development and training for wool growers – will have a new mission.

Cut loose from the Wool Board, but for the meantime funded by the wool levy, its job will be to develop and promote technology which will make sheep farming more profitable.

At first, the new company will be based on WoolPro’s existing operations. Then, depending on the outcome of talks now underway between the Wool Board and Meat New Zealand, it may incorporate the R&D and technology transfer activities of the Meat Board.

In the meantime, the new WoolPro will keep its present name – thereby avoiding the cost and confusion which would result from having to change names twice.

In most other respects, change will be rapid.

Already, the WoolPro board has announced appointment of Richard Gardner as chief executive, following the retirement of founding managing director Lance Wiggins on 30 June.

Extension specialists have also recently been appointed to fill three vacant positions. Among these is Aaron Meikle, based in Gore.

Discussions are also underway with Lincoln and Massey Universities and AgResearch with a view to forming strategic alliances.

Plans for the new WoolPro are based on the findings of McKinsey & Company and the independent ‘BASCO’ working group.

Both think-tanks saw a need for an organisation to fund and co-ordinate ‘industry good’ research, technology transfer, education and training on behalf of the sheep industry.

In its report, the BASCO working group came to the conclusion that the sheep industry is ‘running on empty’.

Its report pointed out that farmers are also facing new threats to their survival. Consumer perceptions about the environment, food safety and animal welfare are probably the biggest of these.

The plan is for the new WoolPro to step into this vacuum and provide leadership. It will innovate, co-ordinate, motivate, communicate, educate and train. It will be focussed, accountable to growers and deliver results.

The most important of its roles will be innovation and leadership. Without innovation, sheep farmers will see their livelihoods wither and the industry die. Without leadership, innovation will be uncertain and the adoption of new technology will be slow.

Expect WoolPro to:

In practical terms WoolPro plans to provide farmers with the technology they need to increase their economic efficiency by 3-5 per cent a year. This is essential if farm profits are to stay ahead of the long-run decline in world prices for meat and fibre.

Why do sheep farmers need WoolPro?

The sheep industry is now worth more than $3.0 billion at farm gate, but many sheep farmers have seen their living standards decline relative to other occupations.

If sheep farmers want to reclaim their place in the sun, new ways need to be found to help them make more money from their investments in land, livestock and know-how.

The technology needed to allow farmers to do this is becoming increasingly complex and costly to develop. At the same time the government is becoming less willing to fund it.

It’s a fact of life that most research and development is too expensive to be funded by individual farmers. And even if farmer groups were to get together to voluntarily fund individual projects themselves, they would have great difficulty preventing ‘free-riders’ from getting access to the technology at no cost.

Clearly, an organisation is needed that works for everyone and is paid for by everyone.

The new WoolPro will drive industry innovation – largely through the development and communication of new technology.

For the company to be involved, the technology must benefit the farming community or, to use the jargon of the day, be an ‘industry good’. It won’t get involved if a technology can be developed and marketed by a business as part of its normal commercial activity.