A new spin on wool supply chains

30 Jun, 2014 04:00 AM
Follow our four-part series on a new wool alliance that stretches from farm to finished product.
Follow our four-part series on a new wool alliance that stretches from farm to finished product.

FOOD and fibre supply chains have become unequal arrangements. Family-owned farms tend to sell their produce to large companies, at best, and more frequently now to multinational corporations. There isn’t much shared culture, or shared risk.

So what happens when three small family-owned Australian businesses, each doing an exceptional job in their field, and each fighting against the decreased returns that result from commoditisation, link up?

An alliance announced last month between a Wellington, NSW, woolgrowing family, a Forbes, NSW, wool clothing manufacturer, and a couple running a Sydney printing and design company is about to find out.

“ Relationships are all there is. Everything in the universe only exists because it is in relationship to everything else.”

- Margaret Wheatley, The Berkana Institute

Glenwood Merinos, Woolerina and Signature Prints are stepping into an arena filled with the ghosts of past schemes, large and small, that have sought to extract more value from wool than the auction system provides. Few have succeeded.

There are things in this alliance’s favour, though.

It does not rely on a shark being kind to a minnow - each company is family-owned, relationships are direct and personal, each player is interdependent on the skills of the others.

It leaves each step of the production chain in the hands of those who know it best. One small outfit is not trying to do it all.

And each business comes in with a richly-detailed map of dry gullies. Each has had at least a decade of experience of what can go wrong with this sort of alliance. That is knowledge at least as important as knowing what must go right.

Because so much discussion about agriculture now revolves around “telling the story”, FarmOnline is going in-depth on the Woolerina alliance.

In a four-part series, we talk to the wool producer, the clothing manufacturer, the design house, and the trade expert who brought them together, about the challenges they hope the alliance will resolve.

Matthew Cawood

Matthew Cawood

is the national science and environment writer for Fairfax Agricultural Media


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