MOVING wool into new, predominantly active knitwear markets through processing innovation and promotion of its natural properties is the objective of a draft three-year strategic industry plan.
Under the draft plan, Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) will focus on improving woolgrower profitability by expanding markets for wool into sports and outdoor activity arenas currently dominated by man-made fibres.
It will work with existing and new processors to develop manufacturing techniques and promote wool's moisture and odour control and insulating properties to take advantage of what the draft plan describes as an "explosive growth in demand for sportswear and active".
A three-pronged approach outlined in the draft plan aims to make wool a competitive "technical fibre" in the "running" market - which encompasses other high-intensity sports like tennis and biking - and the "outdoor" category where it already has earned some recognition.
The third category, described in the draft plan as the "world's fastest-growing design sector", is the "athleisure" market where, according to the plan, "wool's ability to combine comfort and flexibility with casual elegance, positions it well to cater to the emerging market".
Over the next three years AWI has set itself targets of creating an extra 3.5 million kilograms in new wool demand, growing its "alumni database" by 60 new designers and its retailer partner network by three new retailers.
As Australia already produces 60 per cent of all apparel wool and 90pc of fine apparel wool, traditional fashion and sportswear apparel markets, particularly "key markets" of United States of America, United Kingdom, Japan and China, will continue to be a "priority".
AWI also hopes to explore new volume markets in India and South-East Asia.
It will also promote benefits of wool for sleepwear and bedding and develop specifications for next-to-skin wear to improve "reliability and consumer confidence in Merino base-layer garments".
According to the draft plan, it will also support development of product market opportunities in categories such as corporate wear, safety wear and infants wear, as well as medical product and interior fabrics and furnishings.
AWI will also work to improve public perceptions of woolgrowers as "environmental custodians" and "proactively address welfare concerns", particularly in relation to use of pre and post-operative pain relief for invasive procedures and "welfare enhanced" alternative procedures.
It will also work to "prepare wool growers for the effects of climate change" with the aim of having 50pc of woolgrowers implement climate change mitigating or adapting technologies without loss of profit by 2019.
The plan acknowledges wool supply "will remain tight into the future" and is unlikely to increase significantly "given competing pressures" of sheep turnoff for meat versus retention for wool.
Wool production and meeting new market demand will have to come from increased "lifetime ewe reproductive productivity" and feed usage efficiency to maintain fleece weight, improved pest and wild dog control and continued training for shearers and wool handlers to minimise waste.
Adoption of proven feed management and pasture varieties will remain a priority for AWI investment "as this represents significant potential for short-term productivity gains", the draft plan states.
AWI's target is to increase lamb weaning rates by 7pc and reduce ewe mortality by 30pc over the next three years.
Another target is at least 3800 Merino ewe progeny being evaluated for lifetime productivity across at least four regionally representative sites, in partnership with Australian Merino Sire Evaluation Association.
It also intends to run at least 10 practical sheep skills training events across the country each year, reaching more than 100 people and at an average cost of less than $150 per participant.
Across AWI's five portfolios of marketing, sheep production, woolgrower services, processing innovation and education extension, and business services, the plan outlines 13 strategies and 23 programs for the next three years.
It also identifies targets for each program based on an expected investment budget of between $75 and $80m annually.
The draft plan outlines AWI's key investment priorities from July 1 and its performance will be measured against targets set in the plan by an independent review before the 2018 WoolPoll.
The independent review of AWI's performance against the 2013-16 strategic plan, prepared by Deloittes last July, found it had delivered a return to woolgrowers of $2.90 on every dollar invested over 2012-15.
AWI chief executive officer Stuart McCullough urged all woolgrowers to read the 112-page draft plan and to provide comments on it before Friday, June 17.
"It is a document that has evolved over many months and countless conversations with woolgrowers and wool industry bodies around the country," Mr McCullough said.
"(It has been discussed) at events in woolsheds and at sheep shows through to corporate board rooms and more formal industry consultation events as part of a planning and consultation cycle.
"I encourage anyone interested in the future of wool to review the document and have their say," he said.
The draft 2016-19 strategic plan for the wool industry is available on www.wool.com.
Comments and feedback on the draft plan are welcome via firstname.lastname@example.org