Growers keep 2pc wool levy

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Bob GarnantThe West Australian
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Australian woolgrowers have voted to retain the 2 per cent levy on wool sales after WoolPoll results were announced last week.

At the Australian Wool Innovation general meeting in Sydney, chief executive Stuart McCullough said of the 51 per cent of eligible voters who voted, 68 per cent favoured a levy of 2 per cent or more, while 32 per cent voted for the less than 2 per cent options.

"We will continue to measure the performance of all aspects of AWI, but we must explore new innovative ways to make wool growing easier and more profitable," he said.

"We must also educate more designers and brands to use wool and in turn encourage more consumers around the world to wear wool.

"We appreciate that wool prices must lift to keep and attract more woolgrowers."

Frankland River woolgrower Richard Coole, who is concerned where his levy money is spent, voted for the 2 per cent option.

Mr Coole and his family, who run a large sheep enterprise, pay an annual contribution of about $30,000 to the levy pool.

The Cooles run a total of 12,500 ewes, including an 8500 self-replacing Merino flock with a nucleus flock to breed rams fit for the environment, and a 4000-head crossbred flock. They produce 1000 bales of wool per year.

Using performance breeding principles, Mr Coole said genetics played a big part in the farm's sheep program and was an essential hedge against rising costs of production.

"I support AWI because a portion of woolgrowers' levy funds goes towards research and development through on-farm and off-farm programs," he said.

"Being a very pragmatic sheep producer, I support the majority of AWI's direction.

"On this occasion, and with sheep and wool prices at acceptable levels, there seemed to be little encouragement for woolgrowers to vote in a new levy option."

Mr Coole keeps updated with AWI's strategic planning as a committee member of WA's Sheep Industry Leadership Council.

"I would rather there be more emphasis towards on-farm research and recommend that woolgrowers be able to vote on the marketing/R&D split as part of WoolPoll," he said.

"My preference would be to swap the current 60-40 ratio around."

Mr Coole said when AWI decided to discontinue funding of the Sheep Co-operative Research Centre, AWI chairman Wal Merriman was quoted as saying that science could not teach him anything new on how to breed better Merinos.

"Such a statement polarises the industry and creates unnecessary divisions," Mr Coole said.

He said genetics could deliver productivity gains of up to 1 to 2 per cent per generation (three to four years) compared to a one-year crop cycle.

He said an example was the Rylington research flock at Mt Barker, which has created the highest worm resistance in the world.

"Comparatively, when you look at what is king in cropping - yield - it was R&D that lifted crop yields to make cropping very competitive in land use," Mr Coole said.

"In sheep research, we should all be grasping at the excitement of DNA as the new frontier, especially for the difficult traits to measure."

Mr Coole slammed AWI's commissioned BDA Group report, which stated AWI's investment into genetics and genomics of $3.3 million from 2010 to 2013 returned only $1.5 million to Australian woolgrowers.

"I believe the report failed to take into account the flow-on effect of genetic gain or the cumulative effect of successive generations," he said.

"We are at a critical development stage with State and Federal Government and the organisations they fund all transfixed on exiting R&D and technological development.

"Who is going to fill this gap? Industry needs to come together now to secure investment into R&D."

Mr Coole acknowledged the work AWI has done marketing wool and supports innovation in this area, especially in product development.

"I do applaud AWI's involvement in recent marketing innovation, which has been partnered up with major brand Adidas," he said.

"Personally, I have not seen substantial proof on whether AWI's marketing campaigns have made an impact on farm gate returns."

Mr Coole said wool had so many steps it was difficult to measure marketing success accurately.

"Marketing has its place in a sort of leap of faith way," he said.

"In my opinion, wool values are largely determined by the exchange rate, price for competing fibres and world economic growth - for example, in US-dollar terms, wool values are 25 per cent below where they were three years ago, yet in Australian-dollar terms, we are in the top percentiles for value."

AWI incumbent board nominees Wal Merriman and David Webster were re-elected and Jock Laurie was elected for his first term, replacing the retiring Brian van Rooyen.

Mr Coole said he was keen to see results as they set the strategic direction of the business for their new terms.

The board also re-elected Mr Merriman as chairman.

Mr Coole pinned his hopes on WA's only AWI board member, Mr Webster.

"I hope Mr Webster will represent the whole industry and WA, especially in R&D programs for the State's sheep industry, something that will be increasingly important now that the Department of Agriculture and Food WA is exiting that space," he said.

"One of the unresolved R&D areas is scouring, which is causing both direct costs in terms of wool staining and indirectly by being the main predisposing factor for breech strike.

"This area is now the subject of an innovative collaborative research proposal involving several universities and DAFWA."

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