Agriculture Minister Damian O’Connor’s wool working group and project action group have now morphed into a strong wool action group (SWAG).

SWAG members include farmer and Silver Fern Farms chairman Rob Hewett.

Hewett says the group has been selected for their collective expertise, knowledge and skills. They are people from across the primary sector with marketing and innovation expertise. Their focus will be on the challenges facing New Zealand’s coarse wool. “We will add more expertise as needed in the future” says Hewett.

SWAG’s funding will initially come from four NZ meat companies: Silver Fern Farms, ANZCO, Ovation, and Alliance Group. Each company has committed $50,000 industry funding, which is being matched by $200,000 from the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI).

Hewett says the red meat sector saw this as an opportunity to provide stimulus to the value of the fifth quarter, which includes wool and non-meat products such as pelts, pharmaceuticals, and casings. “We will provide scale and impetus to ensure we get meaningful change in NZ’s coarse wool sector,” Hewett says.

SWAG will work on three key areas identified in the Wool Industry Project Action Group Report over the coming months to develop a plan of action for the sector.

“We will re-establish some important industry good capability, bring in international consumer focused thinking from outside the sector, and identify opportunities for investment that will create value.

“Since the loss of coarse wool levies we have not had the structures or rigour around improving capability within the sector. This includes data capture and analysis so we can move beyond anecdotal evidence and identify sound opportunities for investment,” he says.

“We will look for commercial opportunities that are value creating, which industry players can invest in. We expect to be able to identify consumer-led opportunities and support individual players in accessing the MPI funding pools.”

Hewett says collaboration and alignment with a wider vision for the food and fibre sector will be central to the group’s success.

He says the approach aligns with the Primary Sector Council’s vision for the sector, where they are seeking market game-changers to tell the New Zealand story in a valuable way.

The group also includes John Rodwell, (Chairman, Wool INdustry Working Group); Kate Acland, farmer, Mount Somers Station: Paul Alston, Cavalier Wools; Tony Balfour, formerly Icebreaker; David Ferrier, NZ Woolscouring; Craig Hickson, Progressive Meats; Andrew Morrison, Chairman Beef + Lamb NZ; Tom O’Sullivan, chairman, Campaign for Wool; Nadine Tunley, Honey & Pipfruit Industries; Peter Whiteman, Segard Masurel NZ; Steve Williamson, NZ Merino Co.