Wool broker Don Macdonald has secured a seat at Australian Wool Innovation’s board table, as the industry group looks to invest in robotic shearing by using an unexpected $17 million in surplus revenue.
During AWI’s annual general meeting in Sydney, more than 245,000 votes were cast to re-elect Colette Garnsey (205,584 votes) and James Morgan (135,892 votes), as well as outsider Mr Macdonald (136,384 votes) to the board.
Former board member Paul Cocking failed to be re-elected with 128,608 votes, while Will Wilson, Wool Q chairman, received 74,308.
AWI collected more than $60 million in woolgrower levy funds last financial year and $14.7m in federal government funding.
AWI chief executive Stuart McCullough said record wool prices had influenced the year-on-year net asset growth from $89m to $106m in financial reserves.
Ahead of next year’s WoolPoll, when growers nominate how much of their wool cheque gets paid to the industry body, Mr McCullough said AWI would draw $10m down on reserves.
“We expect to have a $3.9 billion industry this year. To find a time in history when we had a similar sized industry you had to go back to 1994, but we had 387m kilograms more back then,” Mr McCullough said.
Expenditure of the company was 61 per cent marketing and 39pc research and development last financial year, with $31.8m spent on marketing, $10.8m on sheep production, $7.9m on woolgrower services, $7m on extension projects, $9.6 on administration and $3.9m on digital services.
Mr McCullough predicted the fibre would increase to 2000 cents a kilogram in the near future, due to marketing focus in the northern hemisphere and the emergence of “label turning” millennials.
With the extra revenue, AWI chairman Wal Merriman said AWI would “attack” robotic investments to reduce the industry’s $600m annual shearing bill.
“I’m aware history is littered with expensive failures but I think we need to start somewhere,” he said.
“We have a time here and now where we do have money, with the increased levies filling our coffers. We’ll make a concerted effort to reduce costs in this area.”
During the meeting, Mr Macdonald’s wife Kerrie criticised AWI’s marketing material, which stated AWI was not accountable to any “agripolitical groups”, including WoolProducers Australia, Australian Woolgrowers Association and Australian Association of Stud Merino Breeders.
The pamphlet was posted to 40,000 growers in AWI’s Beyond the Bale magazine, however Mr McCullough and Mr Merriman denied seeing the document before it was distributed.