Merino has got it right.
By itself or with possum, now renamed paihamu, it is a premium product.
Crossbred wool can’t match that and has been losing ground to synthetics for years.
Too much of the world prefers tiles to carpet. Too many of the parts which do like their floors covered have found cheaper and/or harder wearing alternatives to wool.
Alternative uses have been tried. The stab proof, fire proof vest and insulation both have promise but have yet to make enough traction to improve the value of crossbred wool.
The fibre pushes the right buttons for the environmentally concerned times: it’s a natural product and it’s renewable.
But in spite of that prices are so low the return barely covers the costs of shearing.
Frustration over that is no doubt part of the reason behind the vote against paying levies on wool to Meat and Wool New Zealand.
The organisation may well become Meat New Zealand now it’s lost farmers’ funding for its wool related activities but the loss of half its name is the least of its worries.
Loss of funding for wool research means the budget for meat research will have to go further. Some studies, in genetics for instance, would have been funded from both the meat and wool levies.
Another valuable resource paid for by the wool levy was shearer training. It might be possible for some of the people who did that to set up a separate business and continue the service, but it will be more difficult than it was under M&W’s umbrella with AgITO funding.
Sheep returns made a much-needed recovery last season when the price paid by meat companies went up. A shortage of stock here and overseas is expected to keep this season’s price at a reasonable level but the industry can’t afford to stand still.
Research and education in both meat and wool are still needed. Meat and Wool still has a mandate, and funding, to undertake industry-good activities for meat, but who’s going to do the work for wool?