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Wool Research invests $3m in future of NZ wool industry

New Zealand wool is following industries like coffee, honey and wine funding research for a test that determines traceability.

A test that can confirm the authenticity and origin of wool is among $3m of research funded by the Wool Research Organisation of New Zealand (WRONZ) to protect, enhance and grow the New Zealand wool industry.

Using concepts already commercially proven in other agriculturally based industries, traceability of wool can now be determined by measurement of stable isotopes.

Research at AgResearch and elsewhere has demonstrated how measuring differing levels of stable isotopes — in wool’s case carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and sulphur — corresponding to wool from different countries can be used for a traceability system.

The distinctions between conditions on which the fibre is grown are ‘hard wired’ into the chemical nature of the fibre. Aspects such as temperature, altitude, rainfall levels, soil, air purity combine to generate unique reproducible levels of stable isotopes in the fibre. These levels survive the various severe challenges that the fibre undergoes during processing and use, such as dyeing, cleaning, and pressing.

WRONZ Chairman Derrick Millton said: “The ability to verify the source of your product is increasingly important to consumers and tests have already been widely adopted in industries like coffee, honey and wine. It’s a real step forward for the New Zealand wool industry that we can now do the same. The test will provide New Zealand wool users with a tool to protect their marketing initiatives in the future.”

WRONZ has published its annual report revealing the $3m worth of projects it supported in the 2016/17 financial year.

Other projects have included:

  • A partnership with NZ company Lanaco to create the world’s most breathable filters using a special filter technology combined with pure New Zealand wool. Their new MEO antipollution mask designed by Karen Walker is a nominee in the Best Design Awards. Lanaco recently partnered with Healthy Breath Ltd which owns a large chain of pharmaceutical stores and distribution networks in China and Asia, and will spearhead marketing and distribution of the Lanaco products.
  • A partnership with the New Zealand Merino Company to promote the eco credentials of NZ wool, working with the Sustainable Apparel Coalition who are creating sustainable industry standards across a range of fibres.
  • Developing a New Zealand Certificate in Crossbred Wool Handling, with Taratahi planning to run the first course.
  • A project with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment looking for new high value and high volume uses for NZ coarse wool.
  • Supporting Lincoln Agritech to find new uses for crossbred wool.

WRONZ Chairman Derrick Millton said: “The New Zealand wool industry is traditionally a significant contributor to the country’s economy but the latest quarterly forecast from the Ministry of Primary Industries showed wool exports fell 28 per cent to $550m to the year through June 2017 as a lack of demand from China weighed on prices.

“This decline, combined with PETA’s (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) recent campaign, ‘I’d rather go naked than wear wool’, highlights challenges the industry faces and illustrates how essential it is we continue to promote the value of wool as a natural 21st century fibre, as well as the high animal welfare standards in New Zealand that protect our sheep and other animals.

“Research and development is vital to the future of the wool industry in New Zealand. WRONZ is committed to developing innovative solutions that showcase the intrinsic natural properties of wool, find new and novel uses for it, and enhance fibre, fabric and product performance.”

Key statistics

  • $3m – the amount WRONZ spent on research in 2016-17
  • $10m per annum – contribution to export receipts from products developed or significantly improved by WRONZ through its research manager Wool Industry Research Ltd
  • 29m – total number of sheep in New Zealand (Source: Beef + Lamb)
  • 9.5 per cent – New Zealand share of global wool production (Source: Beef + Lamb)

Source: Wool Research Organisation New Zealand

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