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December Blog – 2021 Year in Review

This year has been exceptionally busy for all with several major issues arising affecting the national wool industry.


I’m proud of two major industry initiatives that WoolProducers have been involved with that were launched during 2021, those obviously being the Trust in Australian Wool Campaign (TIAW) and the Sheep Sustainability Framework (SSF).


Both projects have demonstrated WoolProducers industry leadership skills and our commitment to our organisational vision to:

“Provide the Australian wool growing industry with leadership that encourages a financially, socially, ethically and environmentally sustainable future.”


In terms of the TIAW campaign, during the first six-months alone we had wonderful support from the federal government in promoting this campaign, we ensured that we engaged the Agriculture Minister Counsellors based around the world by providing briefings before the launch, this in turn has seen the campaign being promoted by different AusTrade and DFAT staff globally, via social media and where possible in person. For example, we saw on Twitter the Malaysian Chief Vet Officer being presented with a copy of the handbook by our in-country Ag Ministerial Counsellor.


Further we had the Australian Embassy post articles in Mandarin in the Chinese social media platform Weibo, with one post generating 157k views in one week, which was about 5 times their average views for a single post.


We also know that the document has been referenced by Trade Minister Tehan in relevant discussions with some of his international counterparts. Additionally, we have been approached by three European governments for briefings through our Ag Minster Counsellor based in Brussels on the back of the campaign. We have had good domestic media coverage with over 30 articles and radio interviews conducted as well as international media in textile publications, with more to come in the new year.


WoolProducers have also delivered several presentations at online domestic and international conferences on the campaign and there have been requests for the handbook to be translated in to 6 additional languages, which we are currently looking at ways to fund.


Finally, we have also received an email from a large wool processor thanking us for the initiative as it has finally provided the opportunity to at least talk about the mulesing issue with the Australian trade in a non-defensive manner.


For the development of the SSF, there was significant consultation done, including targeted and public consultation, there was also an independent materiality review conducted to identify and prioritize significant environmental, economic, or social factors. Initially this review was done with industry participants who identified material issues, this was then tested with external stakeholders, both upstream and downstream, including customers, investors and retailers both onshore and offshore. Interestingly the two highest areas of importance for both the industry and external stakeholders were animal wellbeing and welfare and animal husbandry and handling.


It was important to explain to producers especially, that any data that is received through this framework is not a judgement call on individual practices or farms, it is merely to identify how we as an industry are tracking.


The launch of the SSF was only the beginning. We are the first sheep and wool industry in the world to develop a sustainability framework, whilst the first set of data has been published to see how we as an industry are placed across the metrics, work is continuing for the release of the second set of data in 2022.


In time, we may look to set targets as this process evolves, but we are certainly looking forward to seeing what we learn with the publishing of the second report.


Ultimately, the SSF will help inform the strategic direction and priority setting of the industry going forward.


Another major project initiated by WoolProducers, ‘Traceability in the Australian wool and sheep industry’, has also been completed this year, however we are awaiting official sign off from the Commonwealth, which is expected in early this month, before it can be released publicly.


WoolProducers applied for this grant from the Commonwealth in light of an increased threat of an Emergency Animal Disease outbreak in Australia, and in recognition of evolving consumer expectations relating to supply chain transparency. The project was intended to facilitate improvements in the current wool industry traceability system and its interoperability with other relevant systems, while seeking to enhance the international competitiveness of Australian wool.


A key feature of the project has been to consult openly with all parts of the Australian wool industry supply chain at each project stage. This approach was designed to be transparent and incorporate industry views and address its concerns in order to maximise the likelihood of the development of a traceability system that serves both disease preparedness and commercial requirements, that will be supported by the industry.


Covid-19 continued to impact the world, including the Australian wool industry. While the initial shock of the pandemic has abated and we are learning to live in a post-pandemic world, there are continuing reverberations to our industry, mainly regarding access to labour.


This is something that I have continued to work with key stakeholders on, namely the NFF, the Shearing Contractors Association of Australia and both state and federal governments. Unfortunately, we have found ourselves in the same position as 2020, with the ongoing wool harvesting shortage.


This shortage has been compounded by both travel restrictions and mandatory jab policies imposed by the Victorian government, which in turn has had flow on impacts for shearing along the east coast of Australia.


WoolProducers have been clear that while there is much hype around labour schemes such as the new Ag Visa, Pacific Labour Hire Scheme, and the Seasonal Workers Program, that these will not address the shearer shortage as it is a skilled profession and does not provide a workforce ready solution.


We have also been very clear in our messaging that the current shortage is not due solely to Covid-19. The issues around attraction and retention of young people to the wool harvesting sector is an ongoing issue. It’s interesting to note the posturing of AWI Director Election candidates about the need to address this issue with some urgency, with many suggesting that there needs to be increased funding to shearer and shed-hand training. The solution is not that simple.


AWI have invested over $3.3 million to shearer and shed-hand training and delivered training to over 13,000 people in the last three years alone – this has not worked as it has not alleviated the labour shortage.


What is needed now is new industry wide solutions including input from growers, harvesting staff, government, training providers and AWI, aimed at attracting and retaining new industry participants. Training is one component of that, but there need to be improvements in standards from both growers and shearers and shed hands.


Trade has continued to be a focus this year and we have represented the industry in a number of forums and discussions as well as providing submissions into a number of processes, including the EU and Indian FTA negotiations, India – Australia Wool MoU proposal and establishment of the Joint India-Australia Wool Working Group, heightened and regular engagement with Ag Ministerial Counsellors in the UK, USA, EU, Malaysia, India, China and of course general China trade relations.


Our general position in trade negotiations is that Australia’s unique production, geographic and climatic systems must be acknowledged and defended by our government in any negotiations and general international relations.


Market diversification is increasingly becoming important to the Australian wool industry and has been another key priority areas of WoolProducers this year.


Over the last 12-months, WoolProducers have been looking into the reinvigoration of the domestic wool processing sector, which seems to be increasingly on woolgrowers’ radars. There appears to be many benefits to establishing this sector including regional jobs, Emergency Animal Disease risk mitigation, market diversification and adding pre-export value to our agricultural products, while being complimentary to existing trade relations, to name a few.


WoolProducers spent many hours at Parliament House this year discussing the potential feasibility of this concept with major and minor parties and independents. We will continue to explore this concept.


We are very proud to be recently announced as a recipient of an Australian Trade and Market Access Cooperative (ATMAC) grant titled ‘Ensuring a sustainable Australian Wool Industry through market diversification and risk mitigation’.


The project will undertake a feasibility study that will be undertaken in two-parts, the first being an economic assessment of domestic processing, while the second part will assess opportunities to develop or enhance processing capacity in diversified onshore and offshore locations.


WoolProducers continues to represent the interests of Australian woolgrowers at an international industry level, through attendance and participation in the International Wool Textile Organisation (IWTO) Working Groups. Whilst these working groups focus on a number of issues from biosecurity, animal welfare, product wellness and sustainable practices, the biggest area of focus this year was the EU Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) labelling law proposal.


The proposed PEF methodology, being based on Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) principles, focuses on assessment of environmentally harmful lifecycle impacts, but does not account for positive processes that natural fibres such as wool possess including renewability and biodegradability.


Additionally, the major negative impacts of fossil fuel-based fibres are not accounted for, such as the release of microplastics into the air, water and soil, their take-up in food chains and impacts on living organisms.


Internationally IWTO, with significant support from AWI, has been leading the campaign to have the following issues to be reconsidered in the PEF:

  • Accounting for renewable raw materials

  • Overlooking microplastics

  • Trade barrier risks associated with the PEF methodology

  • Choice of methods for global warming assessment are inconsistent with global accounting requirements under the UNFCCC


WoolProducers have provided two submissions into this process this year and encouraged SFO’s and individuals to do the same, which pleasingly was acted on by many. This is an important issue for the future perception of wool and ensuring that it is rightly considered the world’s most sustainable fibre.


2021 also saw the establishment of the WoolProducers Post-Farm Gate Emergency Animal Disease Working Group, with the objective of preparing the entire domestic wool supply chain for an EAD incursion.


Membership includes representatives from AHA, AWI, AWEX, AWTA, Australian Council of Wool Exporters and Processors, National Council of Wool Selling Brokers Australia, Shearing Contractors Association of Australia, WA Shearing Industry Association, WIA, Australian and State CVOs and the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (Animal / Export division).

By WoolProducers coordinating this group, it will ensure on-farm and off-farm wool industry sector alignment in both preparedness and response activities relating to an emergency animal disease, which is a crucial outcome for the industry.


This year saw the continuation of the NWD review and further discussions regarding making the document mandatory or a condition of sale.


Version 9 of the NWD was announced in July this year and has since been updated to with Version 9.1 to come into force in 2022, will see the identification of animals treated with Liquid Nitrogen as a mulesing status to be declared. This is against WoolProducers advice, as we still hold firm the belief that LN or LNA are not mulesing statuses by definition, and in essence is entering into the very murky area of declaring breech modification procedures.


While WoolProducers understands and supports the need for transparency from our supply chain, this further complication of the document may very well see a drop in the voluntary use of the NWD, which will be a poor outcome for industry. It is a shame that vested interests from certain broker/exporting companies who have commercial relationships with third-party accreditation schemes were allowed to influence this process at the expense of the integrity of the document.


Earlier in the year, a number of industry meetings between WoolProducers, exporters, brokers, AWEX and AWI were convened to look at increasing the usage of the NWD by growers, with the objective of the different sectors collaborating to lift the use of the NWD to 100%.


Unfortunately, whilst all participants wanted to see an increase in uptake of the NWD, the organisations that can actually do anything about this are not willing to take the necessary steps to make the document mandatory or a condition of sale.


It was agreed that a communications campaign would be undertaken, and I was charged with developing a communications roadmap for this strategy, which was circulated to the working group. However, not a single response was received on this plan, which provides an insight into the lack of genuine willingness to address this issue.


There has also been talk of enhancing industry consultation and representation in the last two months, with Minister Littleproud recently announcing broader Research and Development Corporation reform, but also stating publicly that AWI must improve their consultation and culture and convening two industry roundtables to address these issues.


This has seen a flurry of activity from WoolProducers in not only making claims of our representative and leadership roles in industry, but by demonstrating it in a proactive manner. Ed has spent many hours talking to other industry stakeholders on the need for a united industry voice, which has been identified in the Wool 2030 Strategy as being necessary for the betterment of industry.


This has been conducted largely in the shadows of both the WoolPoll and AWI Director Election process, of which WoolProducers have also been strongly advocating our positions on.


The WoolPoll 2021, is the first poll to be conducted since the 2020 Review of WoolPoll conducted by DAWE. When the final report was released in October last year, WoolProducers were very quick to publicly point out that there appeared to be many shortcomings in the ten recommendations to come out of the review, despite comprehensive consultations with industry.


Having represented WoolProducers on the WoolPoll Panel this year and even though all procedures were carried out in alignment with the amended WoolPoll Regulation, unfortunately those initial concerns held by WoolProducers regarding lack of independence and undue influence from AWI came to fruition.


WoolPoll remains heavily politicised and directed by AWI, who in fairness have a fiduciary duty to the company rather than levy payers and industry outcomes.


After careful consideration of forecast EMI, production figures and AWI company reserves, WoolProducers determined that 1.5% is an appropriate amount for levy payers to contribute to AWI, which saw at us odds with AWI, who have strongly advocated for 2%. This immediately politicises the process and distracts woolgrowers from the real issues occurring in industry.


This could have been avoided if the position put forward by WoolProducers in the 2020 Review of AWI not making a recommendation and leaving it to the company owners i.e., levy payers, what they think it appropriate to invest in R&D and marketing.


WoolProducers genuinely made their 1.5% recommendation in the interests of woolgrowers and not as a protest or negative vote. 1.5% on gross income is still one of the highest levies paid in Australian agriculture. With the results of WoolPoll being announced, it shows that the majority of levy payers agreed with 69% of votes cast after preferences were allocated being in favour of retaining the status quo.


In regard to the AWI Director Elections, WoolProducers carefully considered the seven candidates and supported the recommendation of the Board Nomination Committee (BNC), being incumbents Mr Jock Laurie, Mr Don Macdonald and new candidates Ms Georgia Hack and Mr Steven Read, while also asking registered shareholders to consider Mr Michael Field.


In determining this recommendation WoolProducers undertook a rigorous process of seeking the views of each of the seven candidates on a range of issues currently affecting industry. We were very pleased to see the candidate responses and believe our industry is fortunate to have such a diverse field of quality candidates that have put themselves forward for election.


In considering the suitability of candidates, WoolProducers took a principled and merit-based approach to this decision, with consideration given to the opportunity for some board renewal, supply-chain knowledge, corporate governance and business acumen skills.

I would like to congratulate Jock, Don and Georgia on their successful election to the Board.

WoolProducers hopes to have a more fruitful relationship with the AWI Board and key personnel after changes at the company, as we genuinely believe that the two organisations can achieve great outcomes for the industry if collaboration was more common. The Sheep Sustainability Framework is an example of what can be achieved when we work together.


2021 also saw WoolProducers provide a number of written submission into a range of issues affecting Australian woolgrowers, including:

· DAWE’s RDC Consultation

· Minister Littleproud’s Wool Roundtable on Consultation

· EUs Consultation on Apparel and Footwear Product Environmental Footprint Category Rules

· Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Review into Definitions of Meat and Other Animal Products

· AWEX consultation on the National Wool Declaration Review

· NASC consultation on the Australian Wool Selling Program Review of Recess Weeks

· Draft National Feral Pig Action Plan: 2021-2031

· AgVet Chemicals Branch of DAWE’s Independent Review of the Agvet Chemicals Regulatory System

· 2021-2022 Pre-Budget Submission to the Treasury Department

· Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on the Australia-United Kingdom Free Trade Agreement


This is on top off the approximately 60 meetings with various Ministers, Senators, MPs and departmental staff that we have meet with this year alone.


WoolProducers also regularly represents the interests of woolgrowers across numerous topics in both National Farmers Federation and Animal Health Australia forums, along with other industry meetings as they arise.


WoolProducers also held our independent director elections this year, with our three incumbents, Mrs Stacey Lugsdin, Mr Steve Harrison and Mr John Hassell being returned, for which we are very thankful for.


WoolProducers also lost two directors in Mr Joe Keynes, whose 6-year tenure expired and Mr Matt Bartlett who retired due to a change in family and business arrangements. I would like to thank both Joe and Matt for their time on our Board.


This saw Mr Glenn Tilley (Livestock SA) and Mr Brett Smith (AgForce Qld) join the WoolProducers Executive this year.


Internally, WoolProducers have also revamped and updated our website to make it more aesthetically pleasing and user-friendly.


We have also instituted our monthly blog and more recently we have launched our monthly newsletter. These activities are being done to boost WoolProducers image and profile.


These communication initiatives have all been driven by Siobhan Wakely, who was engaged by WoolProducers in 2019 as executive support, however who is obviously so much more. Siobhan has been of invaluable assistance and support to us over the past 12-months.


I would also like to thank and acknowledge Adam Dawes, who has only been with us for just over 12-months but in that time has proven himself to be instrumental to so many of the impressive outcomes that have been achieved by WoolProducers in that time and is great advocate for not only our organisation but the wider industry.


The staff are also very well led and supported by Ed, who contributes enormous amounts of time to WoolProducers for his commitment to achieving industry good outcomes. I am personally grateful for Ed, Adam and Siobhan’s work and support.


I would also like to thank the Board for their guidance and input throughout the year, with special mention to Steve Harrison who in his role as Vice President offers very sound advice on a regular basis.


In closing I would like to thank you for your support over the past 12 months and wish you and your family all the best over the festive season. Here’s to a big (but hopefully less frantic) 2022!