Comment: In an age of environmental awareness it is frustrating for farmers when companies purchase synthetic products and ignore superior natural alternatives like crossbred wool, writes Federated Farmers Meat and Wool chairman Miles Anderson.

Dominating the news last week was the fire in the ceiling of the partly built convention centre at Sky City.

The inferno is thought to have started in the straw (that's right straw!) installed as roof insulation.

As a farmer I was shaking my head over the wisdom of installing such a flammable product in a building.

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During dry periods farmers are constantly aware of the fire risk straw presents to their properties and manage these risks by either using livestock to eat the grasses, reducing fuel for possible fires, or by putting firebreaks around paddocks.

It's been reported Sky City wanted an more environmentally friendly product for insulation and acoustics than synthetic alternatives.

Understandable. But why didn't they use a far safer, ecologically-friendly, natural and renewable insulation that is produced on 93 per cent of sheep farms in New Zealand - crossbred wool.

Federated Farmers Meat and Wool Chairman, Miles Anderson. Photo / Supplied
Federated Farmers Meat and Wool Chairman, Miles Anderson. Photo / Supplied

Wool is classified into three main categories, fine, medium and strong.

In general, fine and medium wools are spun into garments that can be worn next to the skin and strong wool (commonly called crossbred) is spun into carpets and heavier fabrics such as tweed.

In recent years the fine and medium wools have experienced high demand and firm farmgate prices.

But strong wools have suffered low demand and record low prices – one of the reasons for the shrinking national flock.

Unfortunately, synthetics, which are flammable and shed microfibres into the environment, have overtaken strong wool as the fibre of choice in carpets, jackets and other products.

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But a number of manufacturers have been making insulation out of crossbred wool - insulation that is superior to all other products available for several reasons.

Wool is natural and renewable, doesn't shed microfibres or toxic fumes, is a carbon store, absorbs moisture from damp air and releases it when air is dry, is biodegradable and does not burn.

All of these qualities should make wool the insulation of choice with the added bonus of it being far more pleasant to work with than the alternatives.

And it is grown and manufactured here in New Zealand.

The report into the 2017 Grenfell Towers fire in London also makes for grim reading.

A main contributing factor to the loss of lives was the choice of insulation - a polystyrene product made from hydrocarbons that is flammable and releases toxic smoke when burnt.

If woollen insulation was used instead there may well not have been the casualties that occurred two years ago.

In an age of environmental awareness it is frustrating those who demand a higher standard of stewardship from farmers have had the wool pulled over their eyes when they purchase the synthetic products and ignore superior natural alternatives.