20 August 2020

German company backs Tasmanian wool

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By Bryce Eishold, Stock and Land

Australian Merino Exports have been leading the way in supplying brands with fully traceable ethical and sustainable wools. 

As a partner of Tasmanian Broker Wool Solutions, Australian Merino Exports have been instrumental in the ground breaking direct supply to German brand Ortovox.

Campbell Town woolgrower David Taylor was looking at ways to mitigate risk and secure long-term supply contractors when he made the decision to transition away from mulesing.

Cautious not to use the controversial technique as a "political football", the seventh-generation Tasmanian producer knew phasing out mulesing would open the door to new opportunities.

It was about that time when an opportunity arose to supply a portion of wool to German-based company Ortovox, which specialises in mountain wear and sources 100 per cent of its Merino wool from the Apple Isle.

"With customer demand turning towards non-mulesed wool, we saw an opportunity for our business to phase mulesing out," Mr Taylor said.

"I wanted to get ahead of the pack and thought if I do stop mulesing, what could I do to lock in forward prices?"

About 30 per cent of the Taylor's wool is sold to Ortovox annually.

The company is well-regarded among its suppliers for engagement with growers, and prides itself on traceability, sustainability and animal welfare.

Mr Taylor's ancestors have farmed in the Midlands district since 1823 and have a rich history with woolgrowing in the region.


Wool, crops and meat

The Taylor's Kenilworth enterprise comprises 8500 ewes spread across 2200 hectares with the primary focus of woolgrowing.

About 2500 ewes are joined to White Suffolk rams for meat production while the balance are paired with Merinos.

The operation is made up of a self-replacing Merino flock with stud ewes set aside for breeding replacement rams.

"For the best part of 20 years, we had been selecting wrinkle-free and easy-care dual-purpose sheep which allowed us not to mules," Mr Taylor said.

"We'd already transitioned from a May shear to a November shear so that gave us confidence we wouldn't have a fly strike issue over the summer."

About 400 hectares of the property is under pivot irrigation where lucerne, seed crops and high-performance grasses are grown.

The Taylors have also recently signed up to the Responsible Wool Standards, an industry tool designed to recognise the best practices of farmers, ensuring that wool comes from farms with a progressive approach to managing their land, and from sheep that have been treated responsibly.

Mr Taylor said the decision to sell a portion of the wool to Ortovox had proven successful, particularly due to the wool market's turbulent nature due to COVID-19.

"When we renegotiated our last contract, the wool market was at a reasonable peak but since then it's dropped off significantly but the forward price with Ortovox looks quite attractive and is well above where the market is now," he said.

The operation produces about 380 bales or 75,000 kilograms of wool annually, however, the Taylors plan to expand that after purchasing an additional 800-hectare neighbouring block in October last year.

"We use our own bloodlines but every so often we seek semen from a handful of Victorian studs in the Marnoo region," Mr Taylor said.

"One of the best things about supplying to Orotovox is the engagement between the growers and the company."

Control over wool

Wool broker Alistair Calvert, who along with his younger brother Rob run Wool Solutions, said more Tasmanian farmers were turning to companies like Ortovox to have greater control over their wool.

"Some growers are more willing to commit on a longer-term fixed-price contract because that might suit their business whereas others might like to utilise the auction system and have a smaller volume locked in on contract," Mr Calvert said.

"This type of approach has financial benefits when the market goes through a tough time like it is now but that shouldn't be the main driver; it should be about sustainability, collaboration and to increase sales and margins by getting wool on the back of consumers."

About 80 per cent of what Ortovox utilises averages at about 19 micron, while the company also has smaller orders focused at the finer end of 16.5 and 17.5 micron wool.

"Tasmania produces a relatively high quality product anyway and we don't usually have a problem with staple strength or yield or vegetable matter as examples," Mr Calvert said.

"So whilst the contract has a fairly low minimum spec, we never have an issue with under delivery because we always over deliver on quality because of the nature of what we produce."

Mr Calvert said an advantage of supplying wool to Ortovox was the open dialogue between growers and the company.

"Each year Ortovox travels to Australia and they sit down with growers and talk about everything that may be relevant such as animal welfare, farm certification - which is topical at the moment and clip preparation," he said.

"From the start non-mulesed wool has been a prerequisite and now the industry is moving towards certified responsible wool standards."

Tassie wool goes into garments for a range of products like base layers, wool blends or jackets.

"A lot of Ortovox's products are quite technical in the sense that the ethos of their company is about providing protection from elements when people are in the mountains," Mr Calvert said.

"Tasmanian wool as a fibre fits that bill perfectly."

Jo and David Taylor, Campbell Town, with children Rupert, Wally run a woolgrowing operation in Tasmania.
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