NEW South Wales grower Michael Field and South Australian-based exporter executive Steven Read have declared their intention to seek nomination in the 2021 Australian Wool Innovation director election.
The two today announced their intention to run together on a ticket of improving corporate governance, industry collaboration, market diversification, reporting and supply chain presence.
Mr Field, 58, is a large commercial wool grower and founding member and director of the educational non-profit MerinoLink. Mr Read, 57, is the chief executive officer of wool exporter Michell.
Mr Field, 58, said he would like to see more balance on the AWI board to support commercial wool growers and the main shareholders in AWI and The Woolmark Company. He said AWI needed to “rebuild some bridges” in corporate governance.
“We need to work with other RDCs, for example Meat & Livestock Australia and we need to get our project more aligned.”
Mr Field would like to see AWI get more involved with the national genetics service provider Sheep Genetics, now primarily funded by MLA, and have more input into its Merino arm, MERINOSELECT, on behalf of wool growers.
“AWI needs to take a far greater interest in it (Sheep Genetics) from a commercial wool grower’s perspective.”
Mr Field would not comment on WoolPoll and his levy preference as he did not know the current financial situation of AWI. He said he understood AWI stating its preference for increasing the 1.5pc levy to 2pc without justifying it financially.
“With June 30 just gone, they would still be closing off their books.
“I don’t have a problem with AWI recommending 2pc, I mean if you have been kicked in the guts once before, you would want to reinstate what was there previously wouldn’t you?”
Mr Field said he wanted to get good governance back at AWI, increase AWI’s profile and “really try to get back to grass-roots shareholders.”
More work needed in the supply chain – Read
Mr Read acknowledged that AWI has an excellent track record in what they have been doing with “great resources and great knowledge.”
“I’m looking to put myself forward in a positive light and a positive approach, rather than to throw rocks and criticise everything, but I think it could be done better.
“One of the first things is that they have no presence in the supply chain at all, and that’s been strategic, they’ve focused on farm and retail marketing, there is nothing in the middle,” he said.
“Their efforts in terms of diversification as seen as becoming more concentrated on one market than less and I think there is a lot to be done in the supply chain.”
Mr Read said the second part of his platform is “rebuilding the bridges.”
“AWI has fallen out with the Federal Government, it doesn’t seem to be able to collaborate with MLA, in fact, doesn’t seem to be able to collaborate with anybody.
“I think part of what I would be doing is to rebuild those bridges so that they can collaborate with people that are doing similar things to get more leverage.”
Mr Read believe it was embarrassing for AWI to have made its recommendation for a 2pc WoolPoll levy result when growers have not seen the figures behind it.
“It looks like an unfortunate timing issue from AWI, but it is unfortunate.
“I would have thought they could get it out, if they are making a recommendation, they’ve clearly got some information internally, so why not get it out there?”
Both potential nominees also support AWI finalising all the recommendations of the 2018 Ernest and Young Review of Performance. Key recommendations are yet to be finalised after three years, this must be addressed immediately, Mr Field said.
“It’s been three years and they’ve been ticking boxes so slowly; it’s an albatross around their neck, just get it done,” Mr Read said.
The two nominees are also united in the view that it is not the role of AWI to dictate to producers whether they continue with the practice of mulesing or not. With the diversity of agro-climatic systems, sheep producers have different production methods and cost bases and will make their own decisions regarding mulesing, they said.
“AWI is a research, development and marketing organisation; it is not the industry go-to body as such, and not there to represent the political perspective and points of view of growers,” Mr Field said.
Ultimately market forces will dictate if mulesing remains appropriate for individual wool growing businesses, they said. The two prospective candidates also believes it is critical for wool growers to make such decisions knowing the market’s position, and would ensure the comprehensive market reports from AWI’s marketing operatives across all markets be provided in maximum detail to wool growers.
“The big thing there is get the market signals back and if it works for individual growers for whatever program they want to do, then they make that call.
“AWI is not there to lay down the law, it’s to get the information from the supply chain and feed it back to growers,” Mr Read said.
They believe the industry should use the recently released Sheep Sustainability Framework metric that painful animal husbandry practices be replaced where possible and pain relief used where appropriate.
The nominees said they were aware of the large shearer and shed hand shortfall, and are committed to supporting and increasing the access to and implementation of the successful AWI shearer and shedhand training programme. A lot of time and research levy dollars has been invested in Wool Q (well over $5 million), this lack of adoption by the industry, begs the question as to whether AWI should continue to fund it.
They also ensure a comprehensive review of the market diversification strategy. The current strategy has been operating for seven years and the “diversification” has led to the opposite occurring with even greater market concentration.
“We need to go back to Europe and get all markets up and running wherever we can,” Mr Field said.
“We need to aim to increase the demand for wool, but recognising also that wool needs to be pulled through the pipeline, we cannot push it through.”
The two candidates have the support of NSW wool grower and Australian Wool Growers Association director Robert Ingram.
WoolProducers Australia president Ed Storey welcomed the prospective nominees but said the body would not make a decision on whether it would support particular candidates until all the election candidates were known.
Victorian Farmers Federation Livestock president Steve Harrison said Mr Read had a good understanding of the industry and his skills could be of value to the board. He believed Mr Field is a progressive wool grower.
“The main focus is that wool growers have a choice, that’s the key message from me.”
Pastoralists and Graziers Association Livestock Committee chairman Chris Patmore said the organisation was waiting to see the whole election field before declaring support for specific candidates.