PEAK grower body WoolProducers Australia has questioned Australian Wool Innovation’s $6.4 million WoolQ expenditure and its claims of being unable to fund basic research and development if the wool levy stays at 1.5 percent.
The peak body has reiterated its recommendation to eligible wool levy payers to vote for 1.5pc in this year’s WoolPoll, while AWI is continuing to seek support for a 2pc levy.
WoolPoll ballot voting for the five levy options of zero, 1pc, 1.5pc, 2.pc and 2.5pc continues until 5 November.
WoolProducers president Ed Storey today recommended that under WoolPoll’s optional preferential system, levy payers should put a ‘1’ in the 1.5pc levy rate option and then put the numbers 2 through to 5, in the other levy rate boxes in the voter’s preferred order.
“It is very important to do this to ensure that your vote doesn’t expire if the ballot goes to preferences like it did in 2018 and remember that if you do not want to increase the levy you should direct your preferences below the status quo.
“This will ensure that your vote has the most impact,” Mr Storey said.
In the AWI Growers Document circulated to WoolPoll voters with the Voter Information Memorandum, AWI directed growers to direct their preferences to 1.5pc or higher.
WoolProducers said AWI has claimed it needed an increase in levy to fund R&D for the flystrike vaccine, lobby the EU for fair labelling laws for wool, fund shearer and wool handler training, and increase wool’s use and marketing campaigns for the Northern Hemisphere.
Mr Storey said AWI is dedicating a lot of resources to try and influence growers to increase the levy by stating that it will not be able to able to fund basic R&D and marketing functions if there is no increase in the levy.
“However, let’s not forget that this is the same organisation whose former chairman in 2018 told the Senate Committee that if 1.5pc got up in that year’s WoolPoll, that their own figures indicated that AWI would be ‘technically insolvent.
“The $106 million in reserves as reported in this year’s Voter Information Memorandum (VIM), shows that that was nothing more than a scare tactic,” Mr Storey said.
“It is very hard for AWI to argue for a levy increase when they have continued to invest in things like WoolQ, which has cost around $6.4 million and to date has delivered very little benefit to growers.
“At 1.5pc wool growers are still paying one of the biggest compulsory levies of all agricultural producers,” he said.
“Other commodities such as grains pay around 1pc, while red meat producers have a cap on the leviable amount and are currently paying a fraction of what their wool counterparts are.
“Many of these other commodities are seeing growth and return on investment for levy payers while receiving a much smaller levy rate percentage than what woolgrowers are currently paying.”
Mr Storey said a levy of 1.5pc provides AWI with enough money to conduct industry research, development and marketing.
“This amount has served the industry in recent times as highlighted in both the VIM and AWIs so called ‘Growers Document’, which spruiks AWIs achievements over the past three years.
“We can see no genuine reason for a levy increase,” he said.
AWI has made a strong case for a 2pc WoolPoll vote – spokesperson
An AWI spokesperson said has made a strong and clear case for the return of a 2pc levy at this time of major uncertainty and emerging pressures for Australian wool.
“Most notably is the proposed move in Europe to change product labelling to a system that disadvantages wool.
“AWI is leading efforts to have wool labelled correctly as environmentally friendly so it remains a popular option for consumers,” the spokesperson said.
“This requires a great deal of time and effort in addition to the day to day research, development and marketing AWI does on behalf of growers.
“At the same time COVID-19 is leading to a drop in demand in tailored textiles as more office workers spend more time at home,” the spokesperson said.
“Driving new demand for wool across more product categories requires more investment not less.
“AWI is proud to have prudently managed funds. But without a return to a 2% levy less work on behalf of growers will be done in the future.”
The spokesperson said AWI has also been clear on its intent to commercialise WoolQ and that work continues.
“Lastly, our chairman enjoys being amongst fellow wool growers and has made himself available online and in person where possible given travel restrictions.”
WoolPoll is a triennial vote undertaken by eligible wool growers to determine the amount of their annual wool sale proceeds that go towards research, development and marketing programs administered by AWI.