What do live ammunition, gumboots, car keys, cellphones and a jug have in common?

All those items — plus a host of other unusual things — have been found in wool bales in the past season.

New Zealand Wool Classers Association (NZWCA) chief executive and registrar Bruce Abbott said bale contamination was a significant problem and even something as simple as farmers providing rubbish bins and coat hooks in wool sheds could effectively reduce incidences.

He urged farmers to make sure their wool sheds were tidy with loose items removed before the shearers arrived so they would not be picked up with fleeces or fall into fadges.


''Rubbish bins and coat hooks or a secure place for clothing would also reduce the problem,'' Abbott said.

When different types of wool are placed in the same fadge, newspaper is used to separate them, but sometimes divisions are made by using dog biscuit bags, grinding papers and plastic sheeting, which is a "no no".

"Farmers should supply newspapers."

In a recent open letter from New Zealand Woolscourers Ltd to clients and other industry bodies, it asked for more care to be taken to avoid bale contamination.

Lost items found in wool bales are a major problem for the New Zealand wool industry. Photo / Supplied
Lost items found in wool bales are a major problem for the New Zealand wool industry. Photo / Supplied

The letter said incidents of wool bale contamination [which had been found] had increased by nearly 50 per cent during the 2018/19 season (April 1 to March 31) compared to the 2017/2018 season.

There had been 417 incidents in the North Island this season, with 175 incidents in the 2017/18 season and 252 in the 2016/17 season.

Reported incidents in the South Island ranged from 242 in the 2016/17 season, 219 the following year and a reduction of about 50 per cent with 123 during 2018/19.

"The North Island is twice as bad as the South Island" Mr Abbott said.


Contamination finds had increased in the North Island by 47 per cent this past season with plastic items up 300 per cent and steel up 100 per cent on previous years.

"We have made progress in the South Island but the real problem is clothing."

On one occasion, a rugby jersey in a bale had tainted tennis ball fibre in China and cost $20,000 to remedy.

A plastic fibre dog biscuit bag had gone through processing to a factory in China and when the fibres were discovered, 7560kg of wool had to be picked through to ensure the fibres were removed.

"When the wool leaves the shed it is the last time a human will touch it [during processing].

"It can go through the whole process without being seen."

He said the NZWCA had highlighted the need for care at training and field days and the online training programme Tahi Ngatahi also included contamination prevention.

"People are to be congratulated as the South Island has significantly reduced the number of contamination issues, but we can do better.

"We are making progress to get it down to acceptable levels, but none is the ideal.

"One is too many.

"It is a problem we should be able to fix and people need to be more vigilant", he said.

"If people have got a suspicion [the bale is contaminated] they should write on the bale that it may be contaminated."

He said it was not a new problem. About 30 years ago he had found a full pay packet belonging to someone who had handled wool sent to New Zealand from Australia.

They were able to return it to its owner.