This Hand says don’t give consumers reasons not to buy wool

Terry Sim, December 20, 2019

Australian Council of Wool Exporters & Processors president Matt Hand

GIVING consumers reasons not to buy wool, despite the fibre’s positives, only succeeds in reducing global wool consumption, especially from Australia, according to Australian exporter leader Matt Hand.

As PETA’s launches an anti-wool Christmas campaign and after comments suggesting mulesing was only a Northern Hemisphere issue, and pain relief messaging was becoming “easier” and its use should be optional, Sheep Central has collected other views on wool and welfare.

Meanwhile, the Australian Wool Exchange this week released statistics indicating market premiums for non-mulesed wool might be affecting grower views and National Wool Declaration rates.

Mr Hand is president of the Australian Council of Wool Exporters and Processors and said although he was unaware of any statistical data, there is a general trade perception that, because Australia is regarded as a mulesing country, it had lost its wool price premium to equivalent wool types from New Zealand, South Africa and South America.

Read the analyses by Mecardo analyst Andrew Woods in the links below, which indicate:

the decline in Australian Merino production and the emergence of demand for non-mulesed wool, the importance of other sources of Merino wool such as South Africa, New Zealand and South America has increased, and;

there is support for the view that demand for non-mulesed wool has pushed the price for other origin wool (of reasonable quality) higher in relation to Australian wool prices.

“Today’s reality is that non-mulesed (NM) demand is stronger than ever before,” Mr Hand said.

“It is abundantly clear that orders for apparel wool types often bypass Australia, reverting to regions considered by consumers to offer a more secure supply of NM & CM,” he said.

“Consumers globally are sending us a very clear message, one we shouldn’t choose to ignore.

“It’s a message that gives our industry direction and sets goals and targets to work towards. And it’s not a message we get to debate,” Mr Hand said.

“The reality is, our consumers are demanding non-mulesed wool, whether we agree or like it isn’t a consideration.”

Australia would struggle to supply enough non-mulesed wool – Kerin

NSW wool grower and Merino breeder Nigel Kerin.

At the 2019 Australian Wool Innovation annual general meeting AWI chief executive officer Stuart McCullough pushed back against a suggestion it do more on non-mulesed wool marketing.

Referring to an AWI overhead of collaborating brands, including David Jones, which is moving to exclusively non-mulesed wool sourcing, NSW wool grower and Merino breeder Nigel Kerin, noted that AWI was directing its marketing toward high-end brand customers. These are Millennials familar with social media and the internet — “the most socially aware savvy connected people that you could possibly want to market to, who are familiar with social media and internet,” he said.

“I struggle to see how you can supply enough wool into that market that is not mulesed.”

Mr Kerin suggested that Australia would lose that market because it won’t be able to supply enough non-mulesed wool, and said “a tipping point is coming very quickly with what’s acceptable in this social media-driven world that we live in, that we have no control over.”

“I’ve looked at all those companies there (on the AWI brand list) and I know there are none of them that would ever want to be associated with mulesing.”

Mr McCullough replied that he took Mr Kerin’s point, but said AWI worked to sell “all wool”.

“Every kilogram of wool sells every year, every kilogram is converted to garments every year, every garment sells every year, and wool prices have gone considerably up in the last nine years, so we have no doubt there is enough demand there,” Mr McCullough said.

All our wool is getting consumed and it is getting consumed at a higher price, probably not as high as it was last year, but not bad, and we expect that to continue.

“We market at the very pinnacle of the fashion triangle because fashion filters down and they are high value garments.”

He said AWI would never market wool to retailers such as Kmart, Target, Walmart and Cosco, but when the wool price went up they would move into polyester, sending peaks and troughs down the supply chain “into your pocket”.

He said he wanted to work with partners that have elasticity in their pricing to consumer wool at $15 a kilogram or $30 a kilogram – I don’t want to work with partners who are just in the space of $15-$16.”

“So I understand your point of view, or your statement there, we work to sell all wool, no section of wool, all wool’s good wool, whether they be locks, crutchings, dags, whatever; it’s all good, it all sells and it has value.”

Pressures on mulesing coming from the Northern Hemisphere – McCullough

In an interview with Farmonline after the AGM, see above, Mr McCullough said AWI accepted that there are some pressures from Northern Hemisphere retail partners on mulesing.

“But it’s a personal thing for wool growers and in the absence of a suitable cost-effective equally good alternative, wool growers will keep their sheep alive, which we encourage them to do.”

On the suggestion that AWI would need to work hard to educate Millennials on the realities of flystrike AWI chair Colette Garnsey said mulesing was “the best practice animal husbandry that we have today in those areas that require the procedure.”

“It’s best practice particularly when it is used with anaesthesia and analgesia – the market understands that, the market understands anaesthesia and analgesia, and they understand that it is the best practice.

“Farmers want to look after their animals, they are the best custodians of their animals and their land, and they will do what’s right for their animals,” she said.

“The messaging on that has become easier, as the messaging around anaesthesia and analgesia has become easier.”

Ms Garnsey’s pain relief comments were followed this week by president of the Australian Superfine Wool Growers Association Danny Picker reiterating support for Merino flock owners to decide individual best practice animal welfare for their flocks, even above the demands of the market.

However, about 90 percent of the world’s population resides in the Northern Hemisphere and world wool integrity schemes are increasing accrediting only non-mulesed wool and not wool from sheep mulesed with pain relief.

Global purchasing manager for Tianyu Wool, Angus Hooke, said there are some customers in Europe aware of pain relief, but in China domestically, awareness is very limited.  Tianyu Wool is one of Australia’s largest buyers of wool and is China’s largest topmaker and scourer.

“For many brands in both regions (Europe and China) it is non-mulesed to start as minimum, and now there is the serious traction with RWS, ZQ and traceability stories.”

Jim Chiang at New Chuwa, one of the biggest woollen topmaking and spinning groups in China (Xinao Textiles), said if Chinese brands sell garments to Europe and the United States, they care about the mulesing issue.

“But the reality is that most of Chinese brands sell their garments only in China…so they do not care (about the) NM status of wool, instead, they care about what the young generations think and do marketing as the young consumers request.”

Compelling percentage of brands reside in the Northern Hemisphere

Mr Hand said he had heard the argument that mulesing issues in particular are isolated to the “Northern Hemisphere”.

“It’s a good point, especially when we consider that over 80pc of the worlds’ population resides in the Northern Hemisphere, that’s over 80pc of wool’s consumers.

“An extremely compelling percentage of brands, fashion designers, labels, manufactures, retailers and consuming decision-makers reside in the north, so every decision our industry makes should first consider how it will be received by our global client base, mostly existing in the Northern Hemisphere,” he said.

“So if it is a Northern Hemisphere problem, it’s a problem.

“It should be a great concern to us, because we can’t overlook the fact that our client base is predominantly in the Northern Hemisphere.”

Mr Hand said wool is the most environmentally-friendly fibre on the planet and is able to address every concern of today’s consumer with regard to environment, sustainability and traceability.

“It’s a fibre that delivers zero contribution to the growing concern of microplastics.

“The attributes of wool apparel make it the most appealing fibre to wear in any circumstance, sleep under, walk on and yet we are left with one ill-informed argument around mulesing.”

Mr Hand said regardless of perceived misinformation, Australia’s industry is always completely obliged to satisfy its global consumers.

“Giving consumers a reason not to buy wool, considering all of its positives, only succeeds in reducing global wool consumption.

“However, if we consider the alternative is that no reasonable argument exists to the contrary of buying and wearing wool, in this scenario and considering our current catastrophic climate, we simply would not be able to meet global demand.”

NWD declarations need to increase

Mr Hand said the current National Wool Declaration structure and usage largely fails to deliver significant enough non-mulesed figures.

“Declaration rates are not high enough and undeclared wool clips are automatically considered and can only be marketed as ‘mulesed’, even if many of these properties don’t practice mulesing due to the lack of necessity.

“If we can successfully increase overall usage of the NWD we will reflect a greater percentage of NM clips in Australia,” he said.

“The end goal is to tip the scales in our favour, to ultimately have Australia become considered globally as a Non-Mulesing origin.

“This would achieve the end goal, to give Australian wool growers free and full access to every wool market in the world, compete on a level playing field with other wool producing countries, and ultimately derive greater market health for our industry.”

In his weekly newsletter, executive director of the National Council of Wool Selling Brokers Chris Wilcox said the AWEX National Wool Declaration for the first half of the year showed that while wool volumes were down, the volumes of first-hand offered wool declared as Non-Mulesed and Ceased Mulesed have increased this season.


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  1. Duncan Banks, December 22, 2019

    The first rule of marketing is: The customer is always right, even when they are wrong. Why is this so hard? The wool industry was broken for 25 years after the last time we stopped listening to our customers. Do we want to do this again?

  2. Jack Cleary, December 21, 2019

    I found Stuart’s ‘body language’ one of ‘how much longer’? At least Colette looked at his face occasionally. He seemed more intently much lower. The glasses on his head typecast him and he seemed bored. Her message that farmers/growers are the best protectors of land and livestock may be so in many cases, but in others ‘nonsense’.

    To stand against a compassionate market is foolish. Mulesing as a maggot reduction practice is not argued, the cruelty is. The numbers which die from the treatment and flystrike treatment seems unrecorded, but the organophosphate ‘solution’ to flystrike can also kill humans.

    Perhaps the larger problem comes from ignorance, greed and laziness. In my generation, farmers were salt of the earth; no longer, except in political machinations. Instead of shepherds ‘as once’ all day everyday involved in mob care, we want to turn out sheep into the wild blue yonder and provide occasional care on land where maggots blowing into excrement and rotting materials increases the numbers dramatically. An occasional ride around should be a daily one. Don’t wait until the sheep are obviously in trouble.

    Blowflies are a part of the natural cycle in Australia, sheep are not; so the obvious is, in effect, minimisation and rapid awareness of sheep condition, and everywhere, not just in the main mob. I may be gaga but I’ve never seen a flystruck live goanna, snake, dingo or kangaroo. Flystrike may be a breed issue as another commentator had highlighted, a chemical issue, a protective shield issue, but it’s there and as long as people buy wool from mulesed sheep; however cruelly done, nothing will be fixed in short time.

    Whilst reducing the fortunes from wool, employing shepherds would be sensible, or even training dogs to recognise and isolate fly-struck sheep, or heavily-dagged sheep for a daily check and repair by the grower. Real care of the flock will reduce the effects of the blowfly’s opportunism

    • Jim Gordon, December 22, 2019

      Jack Cleary, I would like to make some comments on your great jottings.
      Firstly I have been worried Ted Mack the independent for North Sydney many years ago, was amongst very few people who saw things clearly.
      Then I read comments on Sheep Central from Peter Small, Doug Wright, Peter Summers, Jack Cleary and Duncan Banks. Gentlemen, you have restored my faith in clear thinkers, thank you.
      Jack, you are obviously a great stockman, a great observer of all things. I like your first paragraph. I was there and observed the same things.
      Lucila Cuprina is the blowfly that effects sheep. As I understand, they have to lay their eggs in living sheep only. After a period of time maybe six or seven days, the maggots drop of the sheep and burrow into the ground, and then wait for the right conditions to hatch out and start the cycle again.
      For them to be successful in their life cycle, they have to have bacteria grown from stagnant moisture/dead skin on the skin of a sheep. This comes from urine/dags stain (breech strike) and or moisture held in the valleys of wrinkles. Most commonly, wrinkle over the shoulder – shoulder strike).
      If you breed sheep with no breech wrinkle and you crutch sensibly, you will virtually eliminate breech strike.
      If you breed sheep with no body wrinkle you will virtually eliminate body strike. I think we could eliminate flyblown sheep in Australia by taking away part of their life cycle. Blowflies are attracted to moist, smelly skin. If sheep are not bound up with wrinkle, they will dry out quickly and not be affected by flies.

  3. Jim Gordon, December 21, 2019

    Matt Hand, take a knee, you should be knighted, brilliant.
    It is all very well for Garnsey and McCullough to sit up there in their ivory tower and spruik about keep mulesing till there is a viable alternative. They have $100 million guaranteed, to play with. This issue doesn’t affect them. The only people it affects is people trying to sell wool. Don’t give consumers, a reason not to buy wool.
    While ever the earth keeps turning, there is no alternative and there never will be an alternative, to dealing with the wrinkly back end of a Merino lamb. The only viable alternative is breeding sheep that don’t have any wrinkle, and therefore don’t have the need for skin removal, around the rear end of a lamb.
    Remember, the trade only wants non-mulesed wool. Why kill the industry when all that is needed is change to a plain-bodied sheep?

  4. Peter Summers, December 21, 2019

    It’s easy to run very productive easy-care Merinos which don’t need mulesing or jetting. They also give us lambing percentages of up to 140 percent and have a high-yielding carcase. AWI needs to get with the times and promote what the customer wants, or get out of the way.

    • Doug Wright, December 23, 2019

      How true, AWI is entrusted with our wool levy for marketing and research.
      Performance shows that it has little knowledge of marketing, whilst the research appears to be misdirected.
      Why spend on blowfly research when people are breeding productive sheep that do not get struck?

  5. Doug Wright, December 20, 2019

    Could someone tell me why I would breed Merino sheep that need to be mulesed, when it is possible to breed productive Merino sheep that don’t need mulesing? In addition, these sheep don’t need to be jetted with chemical to prevent flystrike.

  6. Peter Small, December 20, 2019

    Well said Matt Hand. Would someone please sack AWI and let the commercial players get on with the job of marketing wool to world markets. This will include telling growers the real story of our markets’ requirements, not AWI’s sanitized version.

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