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Russell blends innovation and skills to market wool and sheep

Terry Sim, August 16, 2019

AUSTRALIAN Wool Network’s Russell Macgugan has taken a forward-looking approach to wool marketing in his eight years as a broker, with a strong focus on innovative development of the Merino side of the business.

Russell is a finalist in the 2019 National Council of Wool Selling Brokers of Australia Wool Broker Award, along with Landmark’s Matthew Chambers and Elders’ Samantha Wan, whose profile will be published on Monday, in the lead up to presentation of the award’s winner at the AWIS Wool Week dinner in Melbourne on 22 August.

The wool growers’ son, grower and now broker started with AWN in 2013 after six years as a full-time livestock agent with a private Hamilton firm.

He has used that experience and his willingness to embrace innovation to facilitate and manage the marketing of 8000 bales of wool through auction direct sale and clip export, plus the sale of about 35,000 sheep and lambs through AuctionsPlus, direct consignments, saleyards and on-property sales.

“Within eight years of working with AWN, I have bridged the gap between livestock sales and wool sales,” Russell said.

He is heavily involved in his clients’ flock breeding, encompassing producers with self-replacing Merino flocks, crossbred and mixed sheep wool-meat enterprises. With his understanding of different breeds and clients’ breeding objectives, he has been able to provide specific assistance to clients on enterprise direction.

“This involves ram selection and purchases from stud stock enterprises from South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and Western Australia.”

His work for clients includes on-property work. Classing and drafting of sheep, lambs and stud stock; selling, purchasing and direct consignment of livestock; auctioneering wool in Melbourne each week; typing the wool catalogue on the showfloor and valuing wools.

Merino wool traceability is a focus

Wool broker Russell Macgugan showing Hiromichi Ochiai how to judge wool quality. Picture – AWI.

A key focus of Russell’s AWN work has involved developing the Merino side of his wool and livestock business.

As a result of his livestock agent training and while building his own stock client business from scratch, Russell recognised several areas needing attention, including the need for more enthusiasm toward the Merino flock among agents and more training of young people with wool as the focus.

He also recognised a lack of innovation among agents to provide a better service for clients, slow uptake of new technologies and Merino breeders not adapting to change nor utilising Australian Sheep Breeding Values to make genetics gains through objective measurement.

In Victoria’s Western Districts, Russell organises growers and growth in the innovative Direct Network Advantage (DNA) program which enables regional branding of garments. He is currently co-ordinating the Grampians DNA program after being involved in a successful DNA project with Jigsaw Farms near Hamilton.

“Another specific delivery point in my role is providing non-mulesed wool-growing clients with opportunities for contracts and delivery of their wool into the ZQ program through the New Zealand Merino Company.

“This involves auditing of properties, working with growers to meet the wool specifications and assisting growers to understand where their wool is going down the pipeline,” he said.

“I oversee the quality control for these programs and can offer clients a price premium alongside providing them with traceability of their wool from farm through to retail.

“The aspect of farm to fashion traceability is, in my opinion, the most relevant innovation with the wool industry and is finally being recognised through technology and systems that continue to improve and be relevant for both ends of the supply chain.”

Russell said he is now encouraging growers who might not yet meet the requirements of either program to begin “ticking the boxes for the auditing process” to be prepared for future marketing of their wools.

Russell said he is driven to see sheep producers and wool/livestock agents become more aligned. This has led to his organisation of AWN staff training days, include presentations from abattoirs and training by Dr Mark Ferguson in the need and relevance of Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBVs).

“I believe ASBVs are one tool not being utilised or promoted enough within the sheep industry and we can utilise these to add value and save money for any sheep operation.

“As agents within the sheep industry, we need to be promoting anything that can help our clients gain the extra yard.”

Russell has recently been mentoring and training a number of new AWN staff members in the company’s core business of sheep and wool.

As a strong community-orientated person he has also combined his passion for the wool industry with his understanding of the importance of local sporting groups by working closely with Marius Cuming from Australian Wool Innovation on the ‘Fibre of Footy ‘ campaign. He featured in one of the initial FFC videos that sparked the interest of Kevin Sheedy, Australian Football League chief executive officer Gillon McLachlan to promote the wool industry’s connection with the game. Russell has also worked with AWI in explaining on-farm processes to visiting international designers.

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