New Zealand wool might not be the hottest thing on the market right now but it was certainly the talk of the day as the Royal New Zealand Show got under way in Hastings yesterday.

The passion for the natural fibre once the backbone of the New Zealand economy was there from young and old, from 17-year-old Iona College and Royal Agricultural Society Young Judge of the Year Fleece Niamh Barnett to Omakere farmer David Daunton who — "coming up 89" — won the Supreme Champion Fleece title for the first time at Hawke's Bay, after more than three decades trying.

But it didn't stop there, with shearing contractor-turned-corporates director Mavis Mullins immediately extolling the virtues and the potential for a huge market turnaround in her speech to the show's BWR Agri-Women's Luncheon, and show host Hawke's Bay A and P Society general manager Sally Jackson suggesting the show next year could have a Wool Expo.

Mullins said that to see the price of New Zealand crossbred wool at such a low level "makes me feel ill," and told her audience of about 80 female movers and shakers in the primary sector: "Be the influence, be the advocate. I'll walk over water to help. Wool does have a future...and it's not at $2. Whatever."

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Mavis Mullins speaking to the BWR Agri-Women's luncheon on the first day of the 2019 Royal New Zealand Show. Photo / Doug Laing
Mavis Mullins speaking to the BWR Agri-Women's luncheon on the first day of the 2019 Royal New Zealand Show. Photo / Doug Laing

The hot property in the wool market is the fine wool of the merino, selling often per kilogram at 10 times the price.

On the phone from home property Te Kani, Daunton highlighted the plight of those farming the sheep and producing what they say is the most multi-faceted fibre around, saying: "We can very easily these days get a bill from our shearing contract which means we've run at a loss."

Of course, he doesn't blame the contractor, it being common knowledge globally that the fibre market is driven by the petroleum industry and its interest in synthetics.

Fleece judging competition winner Niamh Barnett, 17, an Iona Coillege pupil from Akitio. Photo / Warren Buckland
Fleece judging competition winner Niamh Barnett, 17, an Iona Coillege pupil from Akitio. Photo / Warren Buckland

The virtues of wool are many and varied, but highlighted this week has been its place as a fire-retardant fibre, and one suggest around the show that had wool been used in insulation and other aspects of the SkyCity Convention Centre in Auckland its roof would today look much the same as it did before the fire started on Tuesday afternoon.

CP Wool national wool manager Simon Averill makes the point in the marquee housing the 90-or-so fleeces at the show, with photographic evidence of a fire which razed a woolshed, but left its stock of wool barely scorched.

School student Barnett has grown-up on Te Mangahuia Station near Akitio committed to the value of wool, and has been a recognisable feature of competitions around the fleeces since the age of 11 or 12. Her win was unique, part of a merino feature, with merino wool from Hawke's Bay, a rarity for competition in the North Island.

It was valuable for more than just its price, for it won her a place in a New Zealand team for an Australasian judging competition at the show next year, being held in New Zealand for the first time in seven years.