“What wool needs is research anarchy.”

[cc photo credit: Merino’s Dream by Denisse Moreno]

Federated Farmer’s President Don Nicholson had some interesting things to say about the wool industry and research needs in his speech at the National Conference in June:

MO2 is an example that conventional products can be taken in completely new directions. Look at Jeremy Moon of Icebreaker. A finalist for last year’s Federated FarmersAgriBusiness Person of the Year. Jeremy has made merino wool sexy. Look at the development of gold kiwifruit cultivars and now in recent weeks, red. Yet some commentators seemed perplexed about the loss of the wool levy. One leading commentator went as far to describe it as ‘brainless’ and driven by ‘raw emotion’. Blaming hard pressed sheep farmers whose returns have imploded, is like blaming investors in a finance company, for the failure of a finance company. For wool to be on a par with the 1980s returns, it ought to be a $2.8 billion export but now it’s down to just under $500 million. As oil-based synthetics compete with wool, the demand drivers that have forced down price isn’t just a New Zealand problem, but a global one. It demands a global response. The Wool Council is part of the Prince of Wales’ wool project – designed to do just that. The Wool Council’s ‘wool hotel’ challenge is an incredibly exciting extension to switch global architects back to wool. It’s regulatory too – unbundling the road blocks erected by oil-based synthetics against complacent wool. In New Zealand, wool insulation should be everywhere but we’ve got glass and synthetic batts as standard. Wool offers immense potential, but that hinges on consumers to tune back into wool as an exciting, natural and renewable product. Yet the problem with wool is wool. Much of the thinking and research effort has put wool into two separate boxes – textiles and floor-coverings. What wool needs is research anarchy. A Richard Revell or a Roger Beattie to take wool and turn it on its head. What we need is a Wool-X prize to inspire innovators, entrepreneurs and inventors. A prize to take wool and manipulate it in completely new and novel ways. I’m not talking evolution but revolution. We’re not talking Keratec but mass market products. It’s time for business unusual because you cannot tell me that everything that can be done with wool, has been.” [emphasis mine]