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Carrfields Faith in wool unwavering - Carrfields - Your trusted partner Carrfields - Your trusted partner
Sep 2015
Faith in wool unwavering

Long-serving agribusiness director Howie Gardner is making a few changes in his business life which will allow him to focus on his passion, wool. The South Otago farmer spoke to Neal Wallace about leaving the board of Farmlands and becoming chairman of CP Wool.

HOWIE Gardner is shearing 2500 hoggets next week and the thrill and anticipation is as real this year as it was last year and in previous years.
It has been a long time since farmers considered wool sexy but for Gardner the excitement around the quality of each year’s clip and the price he will receive has remained, regardless of the industry’s fortunes. Gardner, a south Otago sheep and beef farmer, is the new chairman of wool broker, exporter and carpet brand owner CP Wool, a joint venture between Carrfields and Primary Wool Co-operative.
The fact hogget wool has been making close to $9 a kilogram this season is a huge bonus and a major revenue boost for farmers but it also reflects Gardner’s long-standing belief sheep have to be shorn so the shearers might as well clip something that has value. “As a percentage of our income, it’s quite important.”
Quality it might be but when carpet buyers have forgotten wool’s attributes, Gardner says the challenge has been to educate flooring retailers, their staff and their customers.
He recalls overhearing a customer in a United States store seeing a sign advertising wool carpets and quipping “Dang, they can make carpet out of wool. What will they come up with next?”
As a Primary Wool Co-operative director Gardner was involved in the launch of its Just Shorn branded carpets in the US but following that foray was the realisation the whole retail and consumer chain had to be re-educated on the merits of wool, its origin and its attributes.
“Supporting and training frontline staff is critical. You have to target the people who are servicing the people.”
They also realised that generic marketing did not work so the strategy has been to work with retailers to develop the Just Shorn brand rather than launch a brand and push it on to retailers.

Having done that and after several years ticking over, the US market now needed a reboot. The Australian market was proving to be a success story for Just Shorn carpets but, as with the US, CP Wool was facing widespread ignorance of the merits of wool. He recalled a discussion with an Australian aged in his 40s who had worked as a carpet layer, flooring retailer and eventually the owner of a flooring store, who told Gardner he had never laid a wool carpet. “That’s what we are up against, a market that has been actively pushed in a synthetic direction.”
Gardner said Elder’s US connections were crucial to get the Just Shorn branded carpet established there and, 18 months ago, to be launched in Australia. In coming weeks Just Shorn carpets will be available in NZ.
“That is going to do a huge amount to our credibility in the eyes of the NZ wool grower.” Another challenge for CP Wool was to dispel myths that wool stained and faded worse than synthetics.Commercial sensitivity prevented Gardner from revealing sales but CP Wool was handling about 40% of NZ wool sold at auction, mostly crossbred but some fine. It is also a wool exporter and the exclusive supplier of wool to NZ Yarns which has a factory in Christchurch. A carpet manufacturer produces the Just Shorn carpets.
Gardner sees opportunity for consolidation of the wool industry, something he experienced during 21 years and six mergers while on the boards of CRT Otago and latterly Farmlands.He will resign from the Farmlands board in November after 21 years on boards of rural servicing co-operatives to focus on CP Wool.Gardner’s unrelenting faith in wool was partly out of necessity as his 1550ha farm, split between two properties, was ideally suited to sheep and beef.
Awakiki Ridges is rolling to steep hill country in the Puerua Valley south of Balclutha carrying 12,000 stock units which he runs with wife Marion, son Rhys and two staff. He stumbled into wool management when CRT bought two small wool co-operatives, which Gardner was asked oversee. That led to discussions with wool veteran Bay de Lautour and the eventual sale of CRT Wool to East Coast Wool and the creation of Primary Wool Co-operative. His confidence in sheep and beef and especially wool has never waned. He remained confident demand and prices for those products were cyclical.

Gardner is also a believer in the role of co-operatives, a faith that has been enhanced as he as watched co-operatives lose their influence to the detriment of supplier shareholders, especially in the agricultural sector.
The secret for co-operatives was to follow best business practice to ensure they stayed relevant to supplier-shareholders.
“My drive in 20 years at CRT and Farmlands has been to retain relevance and commercial performance.”
“Supporting and training frontline staff is critical. You have to target the people who are servicing the people.”
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