Otago's merino wool could head to Norway

Armidale merino sheep (PGG Wrightson)
Armidale merino sheep (PGG Wrightson)

Two companies with histories dating back more than 120 years could soon be partnering in an international merino wool deal.

Armidale Merino Stud, based in Otago, has been in the Paterson family since 1880 and Simon Paterson is the fifth generation to run the farm.

Devold of Norway, a company founded in 1853, is looking to partner with the stud to use its merino wool.

Devold AS chief executive Cathrine Stange has travelled to New Zealand for the first time to visit the stud, near Ranfurly. It's the first time a company interested in using their wool has visited the farm, Mr Paterson says.

"It's good to have reassurance from the company that what we're doing is right for them," he says.

"It's great to get first-hand appreciation."

Cathrine Stange and Simon Paterson (PGG Wrightson)

Devold started on the northwest coast of Norway and wanted to sell sweaters to fishermen. Soon the company progressed into mid- and bare-layer garments using wool.

Ms Stange says Devold is all about quality and has a "sheep-to-shop" strategy. The company plans to source 17.5 micron and 18.5 micro merino wool from New Zealand for their garments. 

"We need to be able to trace the wool back to the farm," she says, "so we can tell our consumers about that."

She was excited to visit the stud and pleased to see the farmers shared the same passion and values -- producing quality wool that's sustainable and has animal welfare at heart.

Mr Paterson says it's essential they're breeding a sheep that can handle the New Zealand environment. Most of the stud's wool was auctioned in Melbourne.

Devold currently uses merino from Tasmania and is also checking out farms in Australia to partner with.

New Zealand company Icebreaker was the first to establish itself as a successful merino wool activewear brand.

"We've built a global reputation for New Zealand merino wool and we are now seeing a number of companies that seek to emulate our success by also sourcing their supply from New Zealand," chief executive Rob Fyfe says.

The company has 180 growers throughout the country and purchases around 50 percent of the merino wool supply.

"[We have] some of the strictest animal welfare, quality and environmental standards of anywhere in the world, which we'd hope anyone entering the New Zealand market would ask of their suppliers."

Mr Fyfe says typically the company avoids using wool from Australia because the standards are often "not on par with our New Zealand grow".

Ms Stange says on her return to Norway she will draft a plan and decide who will be the right fit for the company.

If the deal is signed, Armidale could be partnering with Devold by the end of the year.