At Moutere Station, the present generation of the Jopp family farming the property are very aware of its history.

But they are also very forward-focused, as they embrace the future incorporating new technology and ideas.

"We know where we've come from but we're going places," Lucie Jopp explains.

Known for its wool quality, Moutere is an 8000ha property near Alexandra running 18,000 merino sheep, including 2000 fully recorded stud ewes, and 450 Angus cattle.

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By running both a large wether flock and finishing all lambs, Moutere had a dual focus on high-quality wool production and fast finishing carcass traits.

The property has been in the Jopp family for over 125 years and is run by brothers Hamish and Andrew Jopp, along with their mother Jillian and Hamish's wife Lucie.

Lucie Jopp was part of a group of future farming leaders who recently attended a week-long wool summit in the United States which focused on finding natural solutions to synthetic problems to protect their industry from future disruption.

The summit was part of a larger event organised by the New Zealand Merino Company. Some of the world's largest companies converged on Stanford University, in California, to hear from global leaders and find collaborative, cross-supply chain solutions to the growing issue of micro-plastic pollution.

For Mrs Jopp, it was a fantastic opportunity to gain information and apply it to what they were doing on Moutere.

Lucie Jopp thanks Allbirds founder Tim Brown for his presentation at Stanford University. Photo: Supplied
Lucie Jopp thanks Allbirds founder Tim Brown for his presentation at Stanford University. Photo: Supplied

It was an opportunity to engage directly with companies that used their fibre, and gain insights into how new technology could disrupt the New Zealand primary sector.

"It is important to understand what is coming over the horizon as it is easy for us to get tunnel vision, sitting on an isolated farm, in a country at the bottom of the world.
"The value of this trip is that we get a global perspective and a greater understanding of market trends and what the modern consumer is looking for.

"We can then take that home and make sure that we are producing a product that is fit for a global market and ensure we retain our global competitive advantage," she said.

The seven merino growers, who were part of a production science grower group, spent time with Stanford professors and heard from the likes of Allbirds CEO Tim Brown.

They then travelled to Smartwool's headquarters in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, to meet senior management.

Mrs Jopp believed it was the type of global collaboration required if the New Zealand primary sector was to remain sustainable.

"Stanford is an incredible environment. It challenges the way you think, it generates ideas and encourages you to seek opportunity in areas you might not have considered.

"The speed at which Silicon Valley operates — taking an idea from concept to execution — is mind-boggling and demonstrates the kind of opportunities available to New Zealand if we choose to take up the challenge," she said.

Former All Whites captain Tim Brown, who co-founded innovative footwear company Allbirds in 2014, talked about how a huge number of changes were made to the product in a very short time.

On the farm, it often took a year to see the result of an improvement being made. Maybe farmers in New Zealand were a bit slow to react to some things, Mrs Jopp said.

Mr Brown also talked about NZM's ZQ accreditation and how important it was for him.

"That was a big realisation for us around how he sees that as such a critical part of the business," she said.

Moutere's average micron range was about 17.3 to 17.5 micron and a lot was destined for Italian textile company Reda and then went into the likes of Allbirds shoes.

A stand-out for Mrs Jopp was a talk by IDEO's circular economy portfolio director Chris Grantham about the circular economy and lifestyle.

A circular economy involved keeping resources in use for as long as possible, extracting the maximum value from them while in use, then recovering and regenerating products and materials at the end of each service life.

Mrs Jopp grew up in Marlborough, where her father was a shepherd, and where she had her first experience of merinos.

At school, she loved genetics and she headed to the University of Otago to complete a bachelor of science degree, majoring in genetics.

It was a great experience, giving her a broad understanding of human, animal and plant genetics, she said.

Then came a job with Catapult Genetics for just over two years, followed by working in sheep genetics at AgResearch's Invermay campus.

Having met Hamish Jopp, she decided to move permanently to Moutere, rather than just spending weekends there, so she got a sales job with pet food company Royal Canin.

Soon after, the situation changed with the untimely death of Tony Jopp — Hamish, Andrew and their sister Sarah's father — in October 2014.

She left the job to "come and get my farm clothes on" and saw her new role as "doing whatever I can to free up [Hamish and Andrew's] time."

She now had three dogs and one of her favourite tasks was shifting electric fences. Her knowledge around genetics was proving a valuable addition.

The trio worked well together, along with their three staff, and were also grateful for the support and knowledge of Jillian Jopp.

Lucie Jopp was upbeat about the future of wool, saying it had "so many things going for it" — and many benefits in a sustainable world or circular economy.

The micro plastics debate needed to be seen as a huge opportunity for the industry, not a threat, she said.

She credited NZM chief executive John Brakenridge and his team for putting wool and growers "on the centre stage" and linking with the end user.

Customers wanted to know their wool was coming from a good place, where animals, people and the environment was treated properly, and they could see that through NZM, she said.

"It's very strong, the future for us, which is really good. It's interesting how you can be on a property such a long time but there's still new stuff to do and new stuff to learn."

The latest generation of Jopps were stamping their own mark on the property, while keeping the tradition of producing high-quality wool.

The property had a balance of steep high hill country through to rolling downlands with a small amount of irrigated flat and was situated in an extreme environment.

Over the past four years, there had been a large focus on dryland development with the addition of more than 1000ha of lucerne.

That development had allowed for better ewe management and all lambs were now able to be finished.

It also allowed the hill country blocks to set seed after grazing, leading to increased clover production and plant diversity.