AUSTRALIA’S wool brokers have moved quickly to distance an industry traceability hub initiative from Australian Wool Innovation’s “failed” WoolQ data hub project.
AWI chairman Jock Laurie was recently quoted in the Australian Superfine Wool Growers Association’s 2023-2024 annual as describing the Australian Wool Traceability Hub initiative as “basically WoolQ.”
The AWTH initiative was founded by representatives of the National Council of Wool Selling Brokers of Australia, the Australian Council of Wool Exporters and Processors, AWI, the Australian Wool Exchange and AWTA, with later input from WoolProducers Australia.
Key members of the AWTH steer committee are hub group spokesman and AWTA managing director Michael Jackson, NCWSBA president Rowan Woods, ACWEP president Josh Lamb, AWI chief executive officer John Roberts and AWEX CEO Mark Grave.
Mr Jackson has told Sheep Central the traceability hub will operate independently of WoolQ, but will use some software code originally written by AWI for WoolQ, along with further functionality to enhance traceability. For avoidance of confusion, it will only be a small subset of WoolQ functionality, with areas such as selling systems, data analytics and other areas removed, he said.
In the interview with ASWGA president Simon Cameron, Mr Laurie reportedly also described the traceability initiative as an “industry data hub” and said that: “Historically, WoolQ was there, but brokers would not supply data to it.”
“Wool growers pay for wool testing, pay the broker, pay transport, pay for everything, but do not have the right to declare where their data can go. Surely, the data belongs to (the) grower, not the broker, but this is a discussion for another time,” Mr Laurie also reportedly went on to state.
Laurie is ‘completely out of touch’ – Woods.
Mr Laurie’s ASWGA annual comments prompted AWTH member and NCWSBA president Rowan Woods to describe the AWI leader as “completely out of touch with the wider industry.”
Mr Woods said the AWTH was borne out of consultation with Mr Lamb, Mr Grave, and Mr Roberts.
“The motivation initially was to rebuild the relationship between AWI and AWEX which had deteriorated over time.
“It was felt that the industry would be far better served with a co-operative arrangement between these two key industry bodies,” he said.
“Further consultation with Jo Hall and Adam Dawes from WoolProducers Australia was sought (following their extensive work on Traceability), and Michael Jackson, managing director of the Australian Wool Testing Authority.
“The AWTH group was further motivated to find a way to utilise the millions of taxpayer dollars already expended by AWI on WoolQ, a project the industry largely did not need or want,” he said.
“This project, despite continued significant investment, failed to gain the required traction and relevance.
“The founders of the AWTH recognised the need for the industry to work co-operatively towards a Traceability Framework, a framework the industry urgently needed to remain viable, relevant and responsive to customers around the world,” Mr Woods said.
“It was also identified as a way to salvage what it could from the architecture of the failed WoolQ project.
“The AWTH is a co-operative initiative that is demonstrating the ability of the key industry bodies representing producers, service industries and exporters and processors to combine and lead positive and timely initiatives for the benefit of the wool industry.
“Mr Laurie’s comments in this publication may have single handedly undone this good will, and he has obviously not taken account of the co-operation already in place or, is unaware or misinformed of these initiatives,” he said.
“The Australian Wool Traceability Hub IS NOT Wool Q.
“Wool Q has been an abject failure, through a lack of consultation with wider industry and an attitude of “we’ll build it, they’ll come”,” Mr Woods said.
“The wool industry did not embrace WoolQ, and it is clear they won’t.
“The industry could have chosen to leave AWI to explain to shareholder’s where the reported $7.5million of wool levy funds had gone, and is still going, but the AWTH members elected to see what could be done to utilise funds already spent, and perhaps fold some of the programs into the AWTH.”
Mr Woods also said Mr Laurie also makes some mistaken comments in regard to wool data.
“Australian wool brokers protect all details of their wool grower clients, not just data.
“Wool brokers are the clients of the wool testing house, the Australian Wool Testing Authority (AWTA), and as a result, are the owners of that information,” he said.
“The grower “pays” for this information after the wool is sold.
“At this point, the “data” belongs to the buyer of the wool,” Mr Woods said.
“This is clearly understood within industry, with the Australian Wool Testing Authority recognising the broker as their client.
“Growers in fact DO have the right to say where their wool test information can go, but they do it in consultation with their wool selling broker.”
“At a time when the industry is crying out for real leadership and change, the AWTH is a positive example of delivering just that,” Mr Woods said.
“This is a time for all industry bodies to come together and support this initiative, not stand aside and prop up a failed concept.
“It is through the good will of brokers and exporters, with the support of service providers, that the Australian Wool Traceability Hub is moving forward,” he said.
“This is an initiative that will provide real value to producers and downstream processors, at a time when initiative and leadership is urgently needed.
“It would be unfortunate if some poorly chosen patch protection and lack of leadership by the wool industry’s research and development corporation were to derail this process, and, given that AWI have committed time and resources to progress the Australian Wool Traceability Hub, it is concerning that as the chair of AWI, Mr Laurie, seems to be at odds with his CEO, or at the very least does not seem to be informed, which is not conducive to efficient use of wool grower levies.”
Inland brokers supports traceability hub
Inland Wool Brokers chairman Mark Bazeley has sent a supporting letter to the AWI board seeking clarification as to “whether these were the personal views of Mr Laurie himself or do they represent the views and understanding of WoolQ by the current AWI board.”
“It seems to us that rather than adopting and demonstrating a collaborative approach, the AWI chair is quoted as demonstrating a very divisive approach to any initiatives (the) wider wool industry may be working on, other than WoolQ.
“The Australian Wool Traceability Hub (AWTH) for instance, was treated with total disregard.”
Mr Bazeley said the ASWGA article also “reports a response that indicated that wool brokers have withheld their clients’ data from the AWI’s failed WoolQ project.
“Once again, the IWB members believe that if Mr. Laurie was recorded correctly, his accusation that brokers withheld test data from WoolQ is erroneous, as is his accusation that: – the alleged withholding of data caused the WoolQ project to flounder.
“ln addition, the IWB members find the statements in the article in conflict with the narrative being circulated by the AWI CEO, John Roberts, who has been a willing participant in the AWTH journey.”
Mr Bazeley said brokers routinely share their clients’ test data via electronic sale catalogues via the EDI network and Auctions Plus so that exporters can value and bid on their wool at auction and electronically.
“What Mr. Laurie needs to be aware of, is that brokers are only responding to requests and preferences of their clients and customers.
“ln the case of WoolQ, the expectation that all our clients’ data would be made available to Wool Q, was extremely presumptuous and highlights how out of touch Mr Laurie and AWI’s WoolQ team are with the industry,” Mr Bazeley said.
“Mr Laurie was also quoted in the article as saying the Australian Wool Traceability Hub is basically WoolQ, and if his statement has been reported correctly, the IWB members wholeheartedly disagree that there is any similarity.
“Wool Q was built with the full knowledge that there were already mature systems in place to register, record and promote wool growers’ on-farm practices, trade wool electronically, and capture data in the shearing shed,” he said.
“However, it seems that AWI ignored the existing commercial services and pushed on, spending $7.5 million + of grower levies to develop WoolQ.”
“IWB fully supports the industry bodies of AWTH collaborating to develop a traceability system that addresses the integrity and promotion of the Australian wool clip, which will potentially allow proactive systems to deal with future biosecurity challenges, as well as enabling Australian wool growers to meet the increasingly important sustainability requirements from our customers,” he said.
“With this in mind, we urge AWI to continue to collaborate with AWTH and allow the release of the Wool Q code to minimize further costs which have already been incurred by wool levy contributors.”
Comment was sought from Mr Laurie and Mr Roberts.