Steve, Jo and Adam recently attended the 92nd IWTO Congress, the first time the event had been held in an extensive face to face format in 4 years. The Congress provided a great opportunity to reconnect with old friends and colleagues, establish new connections and gain valuable supply chain insights.
IWTO working groups.
Working group meetings preceded the Congress, providing an opportunity to receive updates and progress work to benefit the global wool supply chain.
The Sustainable Practices Working Group received an update on the ongoing efforts being led by Australian Wool Innovation to ensure that the sustainability credentials of wool are recognised by both consumers and regulators. Technical work to inform process such as the EU Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) initiative, coupled with the Make the Label Count campaign are beginning to yield tangible success in this space.
At the Biosecurity and Trade Working Group Adam presented the output of a project that he had led over the past 12 months to develop a Biosecurity Framework on the storage, treatment and certification of greasy wool to mitigate sanitary risks (such as FMD) from countries / regions impacted by such a disease outbreak. The framework was based on the World Organisation for Animal Health Terrestrial Code and the recent experienced of our South African colleagues, having recently established a domestic process to resume exports following FMD incursions into their “free zone”. The framework was accepted and adopted as an IWTO resource for the benefit of the global supply chain.
The Wool Sheep Welfare Working Group provided an opportunity for WoolProducers to present the world leading animal welfare standards and investment that the Australian industry has in place to underpin sheep welfare.
Drawing direct reference to the Australian government decision to ban the live export of sheep based on the perceived loss of social license, WoolProducers stressed the need for IWTO members to remain active and engaged in all matters relating to animal welfare. Active and ongoing industry engagement is essential to ensure that supply chains and regulators have a balanced narrative in relation to animal welfare issues.
Jo chaired the Growers Forum, which received updates form Australia, New Zealand, UK, South Africa, and the USA. All countries reported on the challenges faced through declining wool and sheep meat prices driving a switch to alternative enterprises, the switch is being driven by both business profitability or regulatory pressures. The most extreme cases was put forward by NZ, which reported a decline in their national sheep flock of 2684 head per day for the past 30 years! The UK also reported that wool is now often being used for animal bedding, as it was cheaper than buying in straw! Country updates also confirmed the ongoing pressures that wool growers across the world are facing in relation to labour shortage (both farm workers and wool harvesting).
Main congress sessions
These sessions provided an update on market intelligence, trends and innovations. The congress heard from several Japanese manufacturers and brands on their processing and design innovations, including the increasing importance that they place on supply chain transparency, sustainable production and the circular economy.
Market intelligence and a retail update provided assurance that more brands are considering including wool, or wool-blended products within their product range. While the traditional suiting market is continuing to recover following COVID-19, large suiting consumption markets, such as Japan, are facing competition from synthetic fibres, largely on the basis of retail price, however there is growth in the higher end made-to-measure wool suiting end of the market. The next-to-skin and active wear market
continues to provide significant growth opportunities.
Crossbred and strong wools continue to search for opportunities for an uplift price. Side discussions at the Congress revealed that stocks of up to 600,000 bales of crossbred wool are being held in China, no doubt providing a buffer for this portion of the market for some time to come!
Much of the remainder of the congress confirmed the need for supply chain transparency, and sustainability to ensure that wool retains its place as the world’s premium sustainable fibre. Discussions in relation to claims of “regenerative agriculture” and the risks of unsubstantiated claims potentially greenwashing agricultural products also featured in Congress sessions. No doubt further industry collaboration will be required to ensure that regenerative agriculture is retained as an asset that can provide a return to producers and not simply become another liability with which producers need to comply with little to no financial return.
The repeat messaging that “Australian needs to grow more non-mulesed wool” continued throughout the Congress. Fundamental economic theory states that demand will drive price which will drive supply - until the processor sentiment translates into a tangible and sustained price difference such discussions will be little more than aspirational lip service from processors that appear (so far) unwilling to put their money where their mouth is...
The 2024 Congress will be held in Adelaide, Australia from 15-19 April. Having the event hosted locally will provide a great opportunity for exchanges to take place between Australian growers and representative from right across the entire wool supply chain.