Woolly questions for AWI

AWI and its predecessors have lost billions of dollars of growers’ money during the past 40 years

SO, Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) invested a measly $3.3 million in sheep genetics and genomics research during 2010-13.

AWI released a media statement this week to announce an independent analysis (it commissioned) had revealed growers lost 55 cents from every dollar spent on genetic and genomics research during that period, mainly in support of the Information Nucleus Flock (INF) and MerinoSelect.

Big deal! AWI's various predecessors lost billions of dollars of growers’ money during the past 40 years (with the help of previous federal governments).

And will growers (and taxpayers) be told exactly how much bang they got for every one of the 80 million dollars the AWI will spend on their behalf this financial year?

Surely any funding of genetics and genomics research by bodies such as AWI should be seen as part of a long-term goal to steadily accumulate the facts, knowledge, data and tools for the selection of more productive, more profitable, more disease- and pest-resistant sheep.

But, no, AWI obviously believes its investments in this complex science have to deliver positive returns for growers virtually in the year the money is spent.

AWI spends a lot of time (and no doubt plenty of money) cosying up to top fashion designers and luxury fashion brands and supporting promotions such as Prince Charles’ Campaign for Wool.

How much extra cash do these activities put in growers’ pockets?

Where’s the independent analysis of their value to growers’ incomes?

These initiatives generate plenty of "free" publicity but does this generate increased wool consumption and higher on-farm returns?

Does the AWI really need to keep upwards of $70 million in reserves?

Would this money produce more returns back in growers’ hands?

How much money will be spent on the AWI’s independent current review of the wool selling system? Will there be an independent review of its value to growers?

Selling wool by open-cry auction hasn’t changed much in two centuries, so what’s going to happen now?

Investment in better genetics doesn’t seem to have harmed the pig, poultry and dairy industries.

AWI should be doing everything in its power to modernise wool breeding, production, selling and promotion.

And that includes helping bring certainty to efforts to improve Merino performance and profitability through improved genetics.

Vernon Graham

Vernon Graham

is the group editor of Fairfax Agricultural Media
Date: Newest first | Oldest first


4/06/2015 7:41:17 AM

To me the relevant question here is who else is doing research in this area, could research done into human and plant genetics cross over, duplication can be a big waste of money. As always it will be better to zig when they zag, Austn Ag needs to find the keys to open doors that no one else is looking at.
Chick Olsson
4/06/2015 9:47:14 AM

Brilliant article, Vernon. Consider the amount of levy collected and spent over the past 20 years on behalf wool growers. With only 20 - 30 million merino ewes being joined this year and a resulting greatly reduced national wool clip, the overall levy model has been a gross failure in providing any measurable benefit for the Australian Merino industry throughout its entire history, despite best efforts of those managing the levy.
Jock Munro
4/06/2015 8:17:21 PM

Okay Chick - how about we growers empower ourselves and market the clip as a nation wide co operative?
Chick Olsson
5/06/2015 7:44:33 AM

Hi Jock, we have tried a single desk and it almost destroyed the industry....Wool is such a small part of the world textile market now, it is almost impossible to take any percentage of it unless wool becomes cheaper and easier to produce. Maybe a 10 year cold snap would improve demand. However, the fact is clear that for the billions spent of levy, the market for wool has not improved.
5/06/2015 3:08:41 PM

Think online and create a portal. Good luck.
8/06/2015 5:57:57 PM

Well said Vernon.
Jock Munro
9/06/2015 4:46:11 AM

No Chick, we did not have a single desk for wool. We had a price support scheme. I asked you for your thoughts on an Australia wide wool marketing co operative - please answer the question.
Chick Olsson
9/06/2015 10:16:46 AM

Hi Jock, I could rabbit on about the tech difference between what we had and what you are suggesting, but its all the same animal at the end of the day. Trying to interfere with any natural market is dangerous on all levels, and has rarely worked with basic commodities, and really just adds another layer of "management" to an existing market. What you propose has no legs in today's markets, as your proposal is aimed at lifting wool price by monopolistic control mechanisms. It has never worked, and will never work, as there are many fibres that now easily compete with wool on many levels.
Jock Munro
9/06/2015 3:13:24 PM

Well Chick our single wheat desk certainly worked-it was so good that the rest of the world were determined to get rid of it. The Fonterra co op seems to work-NZ has been described as the Saudi Arabia of world dairying. I would have thought a voluntary Auswool co op with AWI's backing could most certainly work. But if you are happy with Australian wool growers competing against each other for a price in a merchant controlled environment then so be it. It is certainly shrinking the industry. At this rate of decline there will be nothing left in a generation.
Chick Olsson
10/06/2015 10:51:12 AM

Hi Jock, no problem at all with a voluntary marketing wool co op. It will probably happen sooner than we all think.
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