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Napier’s cyclone rebuild key to clearing wool backlog in North Island

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Summer means sheep shearing season across the country.

There is a problem this year, though.

Many wool storage facilities are “chocka” across the North Island, with a backlog of wool waiting to be scoured (cleaned) before being exported.

An industry leader says the backlog is down to a combination of both Covid disruptions and Cyclone Gabrielle, the latter of which shut the largest wool scourer plant in the country, in Awatoto near Napier.

There are only two other wool scourer plants in the country, at Clive and Timaru, which have been working over-time to process the country’s wool.

The current backlog will likely compound when wool starts “pouring in the doors” during the summer shearing season.

PGG Wrightson's Napier wool store is "chocka" with wool bales waiting to be scoured. Photo / Warren Buckland
PGG Wrightson’s Napier wool store is “chocka” with wool bales waiting to be scoured. Photo / Warren Buckland

But there is good news on the horizon.

The closed wool scourer plant in Awatoto, just outside of Napier, is on track to re-open in mid-January after being badly flooded in the February cyclone.

WoolWorks NZ owns that plant, as well as the other two in Clive and Timaru, and says it will be back at full production in February.

PGG Wrightson North Island wool manager Allan Jones said the industry was looking forward to that Awatoto plant re-opening to take pressure off the backlogs.

PGG Wrightson’s sprawling storage facility in the Napier suburb Pandora is much fuller than usual, for this stage in the year, with piles of wool bales almost touching the roof.

“Everybody’s store [facilities] in the North Island will be chocka at the moment because they are holding wool that is destined to be scoured,” he said.

PGG Wrightson North Island wool manager Allan Jones at the company's wool store in Pandora. Photo / Warren Buckland
PGG Wrightson North Island wool manager Allan Jones at the company’s wool store in Pandora. Photo / Warren Buckland

“It is not unique to us. Some will be in a position like us where the new [shearing] season is due to start when the weather clears up, and we will have wool pouring in the doors.

“So, we have to make sure we have room to store all that wool. That will be our next challenge.”

He said everyone was “trying to make some room”.

“The only other alternative is if you run out of room you have to go and find some [other] storage which is more expenses.”

WoolWorks NZ president Nigel Hales said the backlog issue began during the Covid pandemic, and has been compounded by the cyclone.

“During the Covid year [in 2020] everything stopped.

“There was a build-up of about 20 million kilograms of wool … across the country. And that helps explain why there is a build-up of stock.

“So there is wool in the system and our exporters can only process and sell so much wool.

“So it is going to take a few more years to actually work our way through the stock pile.”

He said they had ramped up their production at both Clive and Timaru, and had actually “washed more wool this year between July and now than we ever have”.

He said they had sent 55,000 bales of wool from the North Island to the South Island to be scoured this year, and their Timaru plant had been working 24/7.

Most of New Zealand’s wool is exported, but scoured (cleaned) here first.

Bremworth update

The Awatoto industrial area – which is still recovering from February’s cyclone – is an important part of New Zealand’s wool industry.

Across the road from WoolWorks’ wool scourer plant is wool carpet maker Bremworth.

Bremworth said in a statement it was still “working through a complex process with insurers”, and is yet to decide whether to re-build and re-open its Awatoto plant after being badly flooded in February.

Most of its staff were offered voluntary redundancy earlier this year at that plant, with 118 people taking redundancy at a cost of $1.4 million. The company employed about 150 in Napier prior to the cyclone.

Bremworth has confirmed it is bringing back a small portion of its operation to Awatoto, with its dyehouse set to re-open in mid-January. That is operated by a team of around seven people.



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