As I write this report from a very wet Yass in Southern NSW, much of eastern Australia is sodden and having more rain on the way. Indeed, there has been much good rain over most the wool growing land in Australia in 2022. Much of NSW and Victoria are too wet. Crops will be damaged, much of the goodness has been washed out of pastures, young sheep are battling, there is water everywhere. The BOM’s forecasts have been largely accurate. In SA and WA the season is more moderate, with good rain in many areas.
In a ‘land of droughts and flooding rains’ it reminds us of the key role of the wool producing sheep (most often the merino) in Australian agriculture and livestock grazing systems. Producing a natural, biodegradable fibre, more often than not a lamb each year and well-paid work for many and a relatively low risk return on capital invested for the woolgrower. Sure, they can be hard work at times with many challenges, but there is not much in the world that is good that doesn’t come from hard work. Wool growing in Australia has much to be proud of.
The Sheep Sustainability Framework (SSF) has launched new data in 2022 and is progressing to be a key piece of architecture in the future of the industry. It is extremely transparent, honest and up front about our opportunities and our challenges. We are seeing plenty of ‘greenwashing’ around the world at the moment. The SSF is the antithesis of this and should remain so in perpetuity. WPA have a key role to play here for many years to come.
Our Trust in Australian Wool campaign continues to deliver benefits for Australian woolgrowers. In supporting the FTA with the UK and I have a sense will also do so with the upcoming EU FTA as negotiations as they get to the pointy end. We heard of an excellent reception for the project in Japan and only hope AWI start to really embrace the document in our overseas markets.
The wool market has come under pressure recently, despite showing remarkable resilience for the last few years post the 2020 Covid inspired shock. With inflation rampant across the world, Central Banks trying to address this by increasing interest rates at an increasing rate and confidence dropping, the wool market may have a higher level of volatility than normal in the months ahead. For growers there are ways to manage this. The opportunity to manage price risk exists in Australia and I would encourage growers to ensure they understand these products and where appropriate take advantage of them to minimise their price risk.
The WPA team of CEO Jo Hall and General Manager of Policy Adam Dawes have managed a large number of key programmes exceptionally well in recent times. Our Wool Traceability project concluded over a year ago, but work has continued in getting the three service providers AWI, AWEX and AWTA to work together to develop a response. They all spend our money in various aspects of wool traceability, so it is a great credit to Jo and Adam that they are in a room to progress the issues in a more collaborative way, hopefully avoiding duplication and actually progressing on things that matter.
Also, the team have overseen the ATMAC project where we engaged Deloitte Access Economics to look at the feasibility of Domestic and/or diversified early-stage processing opportunities. Much of this sector of the industry left Australia more then 20 years ago for very good economic reasons. Supply chains have changed, different risks have emerged (e.g., FMD) and other opportunities should always be considered. China has been a wonderful partner for Australian woolgrowers and will continue to be the major processor of Australian wool for many decades to come. I am looking forward to the release of the report next week.
I would like to also formally acknowledge the contribution Steven Read, the General Manager of Michell Wool in Adelaide, made to this project. Steven tragically passed away in October, but was passionate about the project, was happy to share his extensive knowledge of wool processing with all and sundry and was keen to see the realisation of any expansion of early-stage processing in Australia. He will be missed by the industry, particularly at Michell Wool but most importantly missed by his family, who we send our deepest condolences to.
Of more recent times, sheep traceability has consumed an extraordinary amount of time. Often more than two meetings per day, or 6-8 a week and has taken a toll. The government is well resourced, they have Price Waterhouse Coopers contracted to do much of the technical heavy lifting. It has been very important the WPA have a strong presence at these meetings. Australian Agricultural Ministers have agreed to implement an individual electronic system for sheep across the nation and for it commence in 2025. WPA has been arguing very strongly for our policy of having a database that will handle the transactions, harmonised rules between the states so we have a truly national system and a cost sharing arrangement for implementation and ongoing management of the programme, all in place before growers put EID’s in our sheep. We support the Safemeat recommendations of several years ago, but they are all interdependent on each other. WPA will continue to be strong advocates of this policy, ensure state farming groups are part of the discussion and aim to get an outcome that works.
On top of all this there was an incredible amount of work around the issue of FMD. While the disease was not and is not in Australia, there was increased risk during the year with an FMD incursion in several provinces of Indonesia to our north. There was some confusion around preparedness activities with much duplication happening, despite there being well thought out and ‘set in place’ procedures. The WPA team articulated strong support for the existing structures as they were consistent with the EADRA arrangements. We continue to believe that signatories to the EADRA need to refresh their understanding of their role in such events.
It did highlight the considerable responsibility that we at WPA have in these matters. All Directors need to undergo training to play a significant role on behalf of the wool industry, should we get an EAD incursion. Over a number of years our commitment has been pretty good, but it needs to be better than that. We have a responsibility to all be trained and ready to serve and as a board we need to ensure that is the case.
Shearing and wool harvesting and handling continue to be issues of concern to growers. A multi-pronged approach is required. It is very pleasing to see AWEX and AWI collaborating to see if shearer and shed hand training can be better coordinated and delivered in a more efficient way. WPA has continued to advocate for a skill specific reciprocal visa arrangement with countries that have shearers as part of their workforce so that they may be able to come to Australia to shear for several months at a time. We are also working with the Ag Minister Council network around the globe on arrangements that may help address shearing and wool handling issues.
Engagement with AWI has continued in recent times. It continues to be reasonably positive with the new CEO John Roberts but many of the old habits are returning. There is too much consultation with those that tell them what they want to hear and there is continued lack of acknowledgement of WPA as the policy body in the wool industry. This reluctance to work really constructively with WPA sees the wool industry at a distinct disadvantage in Australia and around the world.
There is much other work that has continued in addition to these issues. I believe WPA and the broader wool industry are served by two of the best in the business in Jo Hall and Adam Dawes. Their policy knowledge, industry connections, government contacts and skill at getting outcomes for growers are second to none in Canberra and across the wool industry. Many of these issues will be discussed at the meetings and it will be evident how much quality work each of them does each week (and sometimes on weekends for a very appreciative President!) on behalf of both the company and the industry. Their leadership has been very much valued by me in my 4 years as President.
I would also like to acknowledge and thank Ashley Cooper and other former staff for their contribution to WPA during the last eight years.
This is my final Presidents Report. It has been a considerable privilege to serve the board in the capacity of Vice President and President and before that, a director. I would like to acknowledge the contribution of Richard Halliday to WPA and the broader industry as the President whom I served in my capacity as VP. Richard had some tough decisions to make and showed real leadership at every turn. I would also like to acknowledge the many other wool industry organisations and their respective Directors/Chairs that I have had the opportunity to serve alongside be it on the Sheep Industry Health and Welfare Trust, AWEX, AWTA, the Sheep Sustainability Framework, The Wool Industry Australia executive or any one of the many other committees or groups that are arranged from time to time to address issues in the industry.
I would also like to acknowledge and thank Steve Harrison who has served as Vice President for the whole of my term as President. Steve’s wise council, considered views and thoughtful contributions have been much appreciated.
But my most sincere thanks and appreciation goes out to my wife Nikki and kids India, Charlie and Phoebe. Without their support and willingness to shoulder a much larger portion of the load than they should have, I would not have been able to serve as I have.
2022 has been a year of some very positive achievements for WPA in the wool industry. We await with considerable enthusiasm the ratification of the India Australia FTA and the confidence that will, over the medium term, bring to the trade. There are many other projects and bodies of work that the team will continue with, all for the benefit of growers and the industry more broadly. I wish the new President, Vice President, and Board good luck with them all and hope the wool growers of Australia fully appreciate the value of the work done by WPA.