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Coals to Newcastle: fine wool to New Zealand

Date

John Thistleton

A large-scale regional farmer is selling most of his property's merino wool clip this year to a New Zealand growers' co-operative.

Oxton Park, at Harden, is the first of a handful of Australian producers to sign contracts with New Zealand Merino, which guarantees garments are ethically produced.

Oxton Park runs 25,000 merinos and has sold 300 bales to the Kiwis and signed contracts to supply 200 bales next year and 200 bales the following year.

Australia and New Zealand are rebuilding sheep flock numbers as prices for mid-micron wool and pastures recover.

Adding to the demand is New Zealand Merino's direct relationship with brand partners around the world offering a point of difference - wool from sheep not mulesed.

Mulesing - cutting skin near a merino's backside to prevent fly strike - has caused so much opposition internationally some brands won't sell woollen products.

The New Zealanders enable customers to trace their purchases back to the farm from where the wool has been grown.

Oxton Park, a corporate entity run by the extended O'Connor family, no longer mules sheep. Paul O'Connor said they had been breeding plain-bodied merinos since 1995 and stopped mulesing in 2008.

He said most merinos today would still need mulesing, because of the horrendous impact of fly strike, but more wool producers were breeding an easier-care animal.

He said New Zealand Merino had opened new export markets by promoting next-to-the-skin, active wear suitable for hiking, skiing and horse riding.

''When you see the end product these people are producing in so many shops in New Zealand, it just blows you away the quality and practicality of them,'' he said. As a grower he had been frustrated for many years to see the widespread acceptance of New Zealand woollen products in Australian shops, while seeing only a small return from Australia's wool marketing, which had higher subsidies from growers.

''They seem to get a hell of a lot more bang for their buck.

''I could never understand how you could go to the snow and sit on a chairlift and not see an ad for wool on the chairlift posts and telling a story on each post as you go up that you can be wearing wool on the skin and it keeps the moisture away from your skin.''

He said tourist operators in New Zealand worked with growers to spread a simple message everywhere from taxis to buses of wool's advantages over synthetics.

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