Wool industry continues to struggle as auctions set to resume after COVID-19 lockdown

Wool auctions will resume on Thursday.
Wool auctions will resume on Thursday. Photo credit: Getty

Wool auctions will resume this week after the COVID-19 lockdown, though there's little optimism around in the industry. 

The first auction will be held in Napier on Thursday, with another auction set to take place in the South Island next week.

Woes in the wool industry have only been exacerbated with COVID-19, which has caused chaos in global supply chains and led to a drop in demand. 

The industry has struggled in recent years, with the impact of the pandemic adding even more pressure.

Craig Smith, the new chairman of the National Council of New Zealand Wool Interests, said he believed prices would remain "reasonably steady" in the wake of COVID-19.

"Wool prices are devastatingly low - below their cost of production - so as the wool industry we're doing everything we can to make sure that that doesn't go any further down," Smith told Newshub.

Miles Anderson, chairperson of Federated Farmers Meat & Wool Industry Group, expressed doubt that prices would improve in the short term.

"I'm not confident that they will be much to be honest after COVID," Anderson told Newshub.

"The industry as such, every time you think it can't get any worse it does."

He said prices had been poor for a few years before the situation worsened with a "noticeable downward trend" in the six months leading up to the outbreak of COVID-19.

"It's at a stage now where the prices received don't go anywhere near matching the cost of harvesting the wool from the animals."

Anderson said if prices remain low, many farmers may eventually be forced out of the industry.

"It's the meat prices that are holding the cross-bred sheep industry up at the moment," Anderson said. 

"The concern is if the wool prices don't improve in the medium to long term then the sheep industry will continue to shrink in the country because next time there's a downturn in the meat prices farmers will be forced to exit out of sheep and perhaps look at other forms of pastoral farming - or in some cases they might do more cropping, etc to survive."

Both Anderson and Smith said the main problem was that consumers were increasingly turning to synthetic options instead of wool when buying carpet, insulation or furnishings.

"People just aren't buying wool products," said Smith. "Consumers, I don't believe, are really that aware how good wool is - so that's what the industry is really working hard on right now."

Anderson noted that as well as being renewable and sustainably produced, wool was also biodegradable and served as a "carbon sink".

Although the industry continues to battle to break even, Smith said in the long term he remained hopeful.

"With education and awareness and more research and development which is happening already, I think that wool's got a really good place in our future."