4 minute read

Keeping it local puts wool on shop shelves

Reviving the wool industry and staying true to community roots has placed Agwool jerseys and socks on the shelves of Farmlands stores in North Otago.

When Farmlands shareholders Greg and Nic Ruddenklau met Agwool founder Ken Algie 5 years ago, they were looking for an answer. Farming Headwaters sheep across two properties in Five Forks, near Oamaru, Greg and Nic knew their premium wool was seriously undervalued. How could they change that?

The answer they took home was “regional wool” – the notion that wool from a region be made into products in that region and then sold in that region. Now, wool from their flock is turned into jerseys, socks and beanies that are then sold in their local Farmlands store. Farmlands is working to make them available online soon. Greg and Nic’s farm is one of nine from Southland to North Canterbury investing in the programme and supplying lamb and hogget wool of 30-32.5 microns to Agwool. Other investors are as far north as Masterton. Within the Agwool system, farmers fund the manufacture of their own wool by the kilo. Agwool New Zealand was formed under parent company Agmatch. It aims to improve outcomes for wool with an emphasis on quality, farmer returns, good retail value and excellence in the end product. For Greg and Nic, seeing the whole process from shearing shed to store shelf has been a real source of pride. “The lambs’ wool is sorted on the shearing table and only the very best of it goes into the jerseys,” Greg says. “We got to see the end product before it went out and we are really impressed.” Even better that the team at Farmlands

| Nic and Greg Ruddenklau with Gracelyn, 9, and Sam, 8.

Oamaru got behind them. “We’ve been shareholders for a long time and we are really happy with the store display. We’ve had great feedback and people seem to really like the jersey,” Greg says. For he and Nic, the real triumph is in proving that the money is still there for their wool “and that has been shown”, Greg says. The community aspect of the project has been a driver for Farmlands Oamaru’s Business Manager Steffan Souness. “Initially I saw Greg and Nic promoting these jerseys through Agwool and started wondering how Farmlands could get on board,” Steffan says. “The thing that excited me was the opportunity to support our local wool growers and shareholders as the product is so close to home. It’s a really light jersey with a beautiful soft lamb’s wool feel and unique breathable and windproof material on the inside.” The jerseys and socks have been well supported by customers and the community aspect of them is a real drawcard. “Our shareholders are growing this wool. The jerseys are selling well and adding value back into the wool industry. Also we are using our platform for good, locally,” Farmlands Otago Provincial Manager Paul McKernan says. “We need to get the wool price back to where it should be.” For Ken and the Agwool team, the programme gives transparency of the whole supply chain from shearing shed to retail store. “Within Agwool we are fortunate to have a very complete knowledge of the full supply chain, from growing, designing and processing to understanding the market and selling the end product,” Ken says. “We need 1,000kg of wool to make regional wool work and can break it into 4-5 different products. This means that we can manufacture Otago wool and sell the products in Otago and do the same in Canterbury, Southland or Hawke’s Bay. Having local wool in each area will be very satisfying,” Ken says. “If the wool industry is going to recover, it needs to be of a premium quality. This wool is made into a top-quality yarn and the jerseys are the best of their kind in the marketplace at a very fair price. “Wool has been seriously undervalued for many years now and as the values were poor, wool fell into the situation of farmers attempting to reduce expenses by not adhering to a high level of wool handling and classing in the shed. “The result of this from a manufacturing perspective has been poor quality end products. This programme is designed to change that. With farmers currently looking at returns of up to $40 per kilo of wool through the Agwool programme, all of those involved in the processing and manufacturing of the wool are treated well and paid fair money for good quality work.” With more quality wool products in the works, including carpets, underlay and insulation, Ken is committed to supporting the industry through the Agwool programme. “The jerseys and socks are an excellent example of just how good strong wool can be and that better returns are possible,” Ken says. “By stocking these products, Farmlands are supporting sheep farmers in the best possible way by offering a product for sale that is effectively direct from the farmers themselves and will make a positive difference to farmers’ outcomes.” Farmlands is working on expanding the Agwool range throughout stores in Otago in early 2022.

| Jerseys, socks and beanies made with the Ruddenklaus’ wool.

The lambs’ wool is sorted on the shearing table and only the very best of it goes into the jerseys.”

Greg Ruddenklau

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