每日跟讀#581: Sheep Farmers in New Zealand Adapt to Changing Tastes
ST. ANDREWS, New Zealand — About three decades ago, when Andrew Fraser began raising sheep, wool was among the star exports of this nation. Its other sheep products — lamb and mutton — were supporting actors.
Today, the situation is reversed. New Zealand’s sheep meat exports are up, while wool faces intensifying competition from synthetic fibers. Although sheep farming is still enmeshed in the fabric of New Zealand’s cultural identity, it is another economic activity that this nation is retooling for a globalized world.
“Wool has traditionally been — and still is — a very good product,” Mr. Fraser said. “The trouble is that now, a similar product can be manufactured out of used Coke bottles and all sorts of stuff.
From 1982 to 2011, New Zealand’s sheep population declined to 31.1 million from 70.2 million, according to government data, as many sheep pastures were converted to dairy farms or other uses. The roughly 17,000 sheep farmers who remain still earn money from selling the fleece of their animals. But on many sheep farms, meat has replaced wool as the primary profit maker.
Since 1990, the value of New Zealand’s annual exports of raw wool and manufactured wool products has declined to about $700 million from $1.2 billion, according to government data. By contrast, lamb and mutton exports have increased almost threefold to $2.3 billion. And dairy exports, worth $1.9 billion in 1992, have soared to $14.1 billion.
New Zealand, with 4.4 million people, is the world’s third-largest wool producer behind Australia and China, according to Beef and Lamb New Zealand, a farmer- owned industry group. It supplies 45 percent of all carpet wool globally, the Australia and New Zealand Banking Group said in a report last year.
Yet more than 90 percent of New Zealand’s wool is exported in raw form, rather than in finished products like carpets or upholstery, leaving it vulnerable to swings in commodity markets.
Farmers said the wool industry would benefit from having a unified voice to promote New Zealand wool abroad as a highend fiber that, in their view, beats synthetic alternatives in several categories, including overall quality and environmental sustainability. Having a single voice could help the industry reach beyond China, its primary export market by far, into relatively untapped markets like the United States.
But New Zealand’s wool industry is viewed as highly fragmented. There were 35 wool exporters operating across the country last year, “a huge level of decentralization” given the industry’s relatively modest export earnings, the Banking Group reported.
“Everyone’s sort of undercutting each other,” said Ross Andrews, a South Island farmer who earns around $3 a kilogram for his carpet-grade wool.
Wool growers long assumed that their industry would somehow look after itself, but there is now a clear need to promote wool over synthetic fibers, said Sandra Faulkner, an industry advocate. According to an industry group, Beef and Lamb New Zealand, wool accounts for 1.3 percent of global fiber production and synthetics 61.4 percent.
“It’s about identifying ourselves in the luxury marketplace, which is where we’ve always belonged,” Ms. Faulkner said.
Peter Lyon, the supervisor of a South Island shearing team, said farmers’ views on how the wool industry should evolve typically depend on factors like whether they have reliable export contractors, the quality of wool they produce and their level of debt.
In the mid-20th century, wool growers were often “asset-rich and cash-poor,” Mr. Lyon said . “But you can’t afford to be cashpoor today or you’ll get thrown out. ”
Source article: https://paper.udn.com/udnpaper/POH0067/268494/web/