Our wool growers, who have come on board the journey with ZQRX, are reaping the benefits of not only price premiums, but recognition for their years of commitment to leaving the environment better than they found it.
The New Zealand Merino Company’s (NZM) ZQRX regenerative wool program was developed to meet ever-growing consumer demand. It helps farmers gain access to premium markets as they work with nature to continuously improve human, animal, and environmental outcomes.
We support our clients through innovative marketing solutions and one of the tools we use to achieve this is ZQRX.
Retail markets around the world are recovering post-Covid and we are seeing more growers taking up ZQRX contracts as the market continues to improve and demand for next-to-skin apparel increases.
The demand factor is in the 18-21 micron category which is the driving force and continuing to show a lot of strength. There is also demand coming out of Europe, as well as interest out of China, with a lot of Chinese customers wanting to go back into stores rather than shopping online.
ZQRX offers recognition to our growers, and they are rewarded with price premiums and market access for their wool. I was pleased to be able to encourage wool grower Anna Fairbairn-Calvert and her family to participate in ZQRX as I felt they were the ideal fit for the program.
Anna agrees saying ZQRX is giving recognition to their family-run operation which has been implementing the principles of sustainability and regeneration for many years.
Anna, her parents Charles and Amanda, and brother Clive are based at Skipton, about 60km from Ballarat, where they run fine wool Merinos and crossbreds and also sow crops. ‘Banongill East’ comprises 5500 acres with Anna managing the sheep operation while her brother takes charge of the cropping program.
Anna explains this is the third year the family has been involved in ZQRX.
“We had stopped mulesing, and we thought the program offered the opportunity to gain recognition for the environmental work we had always been doing and enable us to get a premium for our wool,’’ Anna said.
“Mum and dad have been planting trees since they moved here, and every year we plant 2500 trees. We have a 600-acre lake, as well as a swamp, and we look after these by locking them up at certain times of the year. We are also involved in research trials on correctly grazing swampy country. Half of the property is stony rise country which is where we run the sheep. Totally organic – it has never been fertilised and has natural clovers and grasses which we look after with rotational grazing and definitely no cropping.’’
Anna says while the premium they receive for their wool through ZQRX is important, it is a really good feeling to be recognised for doing the right thing. When it came to the ZQRX audit, the family didn’t have to change a thing with its operations.
“We ticked all the boxes for the audit so that was really great for us. I guess trying to find unmulesed rams to suit us has been a challenge, but it has made us broaden our horizons,’’ she said.
“People look at our wool and our operation as a benchmark and they are really interested that there’s a company like AWN, offering access to the ZQRX program, which shows they really care about the environment. People are definitely interested and want to know how they can be involved. It is a very highly regarded program.’’
Another grower who was keen to come on board was Andy Graham who I also identified as ticking the boxes for the program.
Andy, who farms with his father David and two brothers Tim and Charlie, east of Gundagai, is full of praise for AWN and NZM for initiating and promoting the ZQRX program.
“They are doing a great job promoting the wool industry and helping us all improve what we are doing. We were pretty much doing what we needed to be doing with aspects such as subdivisions, tree planting and soil testing, animal health and welfare standards,’’ he said.
“I felt we ticked a lot of boxes for ZQRX, but it is great to get recognition. Our main goal is to leave the place better than we found it and ultimately create sustainability for future generations.’’
From a grower perspective people are continuing to sign up to ZQRX as they are coming to the end of their contracts and have had good results. New contracts are well above current market values, so we are witnessing a lot of activity. It is all about how we can support our clients and ZQRX forward contracts are just one way in which clients benefit from the program.
Dougal Morrison, who operates a property near the village of Oatlands, midway between Hobart and Launceston, indicated to me the security of forward contracts was one of the drivers behind him joining the ZQRX program.
He said it had given him the confidence to invest in Merinos and step back from crossbreds. They wanted more security and knowing their prices in advance helps them with budgeting and planning as they go forward.
Running Merino sheep, crossbreds and cattle on his property ‘St Peters Pass’, Dougal joined ZQ in 2021 and moved to ZQRX late last year.
“We are looking forward to the efficiencies it will bring to our business as we get into the program and explore what we can give back to the environment through ethical wool production. We are currently going through a terrible season, probably the worst I have seen, which has taken up a lot of our time, but we are keen to be increasingly adopting the ZQRX principles and are always striving for continuous improvement.’’
NZM General Manager of Global Supply Matt Hand says ZQRX identifies a piece in the market which has been missing.
“It offers recognition of all the great things our wool growers do every day which is rarely recognised in the auction room and rewards with premiums to suit. Price is one thing, but looking forward and looking back, these farmers are very often operating generational businesses. So many ZQRX wool growers are part of, or aspiring to be part of, a generation looking for long-term recognition and financial security for the fibre they produce. We offer a platform for that recognition which is definitely needed,’’ he said.
“The expansion of the program and the increasing number of AWN wool growers becoming involved is testament to the interest in the program.
“We’re also seeing growth across a diverse range of new and existing brand partners. Consumers and brands are increasingly looking to migrate from synthetics to natural fibres, all the tough questions around the environment, sustainability, circularity, biodiversity and animal welfare, are answered by wool. ZQRX provides the platform meeting the very standards so many brands aspire to meet. As a result, we have new brands across a range of wool types, opening diverse opportunities for growers,’’ he said.
“The incentives are there for growers aligned to ZQRX, there’s a little extra work to be part of this program. While we never say it’s easy to reach the compliance level and beyond, we’ve built and resourced a support structure enabling growers to enjoy long-term rewards.’’
We proudly own 10.1 per cent of NZM with our Chairman John Maher sitting on the company’s board. This is great for the relationship from the perspective of working together and has brought the teams together to achieve a common goal for both companies and our growers.