The wool sector has long been an iconic part of New Zealand’s rural identity, supporting vibrant rural communities over many farming generations. It remains an important part of New Zealand’s regional economy.
The strong wool sector has faced increasing competition from synthetic fibres since the 1960s, and especially in the last 20 years. The majority of sheep farmed in New Zealand produce coarse diameter fibre that is mainly used in floorcoverings — broadloom carpets and rugs. The increasing use of synthetic fibres in these products has reduced the demand and price of strong wool.
Although New Zealand is a major player in the strong wool sector, and the largest exporter of strong wool in the world, the sector has been in decline over recent decades, a trend heightened by the disruption to global trade caused by Covid-19.
Prices for strong wool are at their lowest point, driving a significant decline in sheep numbers and the amount of wool produced – from 58 million sheep producing 305,000 tonnes of wool in 1990, to 27 million sheep producing 140,000 tonnes of wool in 2020.
Our funding emphasis is on applied research and development leading to commercial outcomes in order to increase demand and the price farmers get for their wool. WRONZ also maintains a research focus on enabling science for wool fibre research that improves knowledge about its properties, sustaining a knowledge platform for development of new processes and products.