Australian Wool Innovation needs to stop navel gazing and instead give the industry some "true leadership", says leading livestock industry consultant and veterinarian, Phil Holmes.
He said AWI's focus needed to switch from internal matters like fighting independent reviews about lack of corporate governance and onto the needs of shareholders.
Shareholders needed to be proud of AWI, not embarrassed by it.
Dr Holmes is one of eight candidates vying to fill three board vacancies which will be decided by a ballot of shareholders.
All eight candidates have been sent a list of 10 common questions to give readers an insight into how each of them thinks the AWI is performing and where the company should be headed into the future.
Dr Holmes said he couldn't comment on whether AWI had the balance right between marketing and R&D because there was no real data on their effectiveness.
He said AWI's R&D strategy should be aimed at improving the profit drivers in wool production.
"There are flocks out there carrying over $90 of fleece value on the backs of their sheep and too many carrying $40 or less. How was this allowed to happen?"
Question: If elected, what would be your major priorities as a director of AWI?
Answer: Make levy payers proud that AWI is providing leadership and direction for the industry.
AWI needs true leadership, not fighting Senate inquiries and dealing with independent reviews about lack of corporate governance and other matters.
It needs to go onto the front foot and shine the light on the path forward for the wool industry, driven by a board and a CEO who understand the concerns of producers. The focus has to change from internal AWI matters to shareholder needs.
Q: Do you think AWI has now got the balance right between marketing and research?
A: I cannot answer that as there is insufficient evidence. Where are the data on how effective the AWI activity on marketing and R&D have been? I cannot find anything.
Effectiveness should drive this question. In the meantime, there is polarisation and anecdotes, hardly a healthy position for an industry leading body. Show me some data on effectiveness and I will make my call. It is not that difficult.
Q: What do you think should be AWI's main research targets?
A: Simple really. Align the research to the profit drivers for wool production. It is all about fleece value.
There are flocks out there carrying over $90 of fleece value on the backs of their sheep and too many carrying $40 or less.
It costs the same to run both flocks. How was this allowed to happen? At an industry level, the most popular selection index used by those interested in objective measurement does almost nothing to improve fleece value over time. There is much work to be done here.
Q: How do you rate the AWI's current promotion and marketing strategy and what, if anything, would you do differently?
A: I don't know as I have no objective evidence on which to base an opinion. Show me some survey data on the effectiveness of the AWI promotion and marketing strategy and I will comment sensibly.
Until then, I will stand aside from the emotional and anecdotal arguments. They are a complete distraction and a waste of energy and time. Let's have some transparent facts in order to make an informed decision.
Q: Do you think the AWI is now transparent enough with its levy payers?
A: No! Levy payers have little idea of what goes on in AWI. Most of them learn about two-way mirrors and the like in the press and cringe, embarrassed.
AWI as the leading industry body has to stand proud and lead by example, with excellence at every point along the way. AWI has to engender pride with levy payers, not embarrassment.
Q: The Merino flock has declined dramatically in size (thanks, in large part, to drought). What should the AWI be doing to rebuild it?
A: When a wool flock is run well it can be the most profitable choice of all grazing enterprises in the long-term. More profitable than beef and lamb production.
The problem is that AWI has failed to explain to wool producers what the profit drivers are and focus the R&D effort on them.
As a result, too many producers think wool is too difficult and turn to another grazing enterprise, or even cropping. AWI has missed an opportunity here but fortunately it is not too late.
Droughts come and go, the right AWI message should not.
Q: How important do you think it is to end surgical mulesing in the industry?
A: There will always be a need to mules some sheep in some regions. We have the means now to construct excellent pain relief protocols that will satisfy all the animal welfare requirements.
Putting these in place should be a major priority. It is not difficult as almost all human and some farm livestock industries have them in place. To date, this issue has not been managed well.
Q: The AWI is often portrayed negatively in the media. What do you think needs to happen to change that or is the company the victim of the "usual suspects" out to stir up trouble?
A: AWI has brought a lot of the problems on itself in the past. Fresh faces and minds are sorely needed to change how AWI operates. As the leading industry body, AWI needs to have a clear focus on the profitability of the wool industry and gain the respect of all the players through its activities.
Q: Does the Australian wool industry's heavy dependence on the Chinese market worry you?
A: No, the market is what it is and we as producers just have to adapt to it, just like any other industry.
We have done it with beef and lamb, why not wool? That's the reality of it and it will require constant change on the part of producers.
At the moment, it is a swing from Europe to China. In 10 years it may be a swing from China to Uzbekistan,who knows? AWI should be taking a leading role in this area.
Q: Any other comments?
A: It is time for progressive change in AWI. Fresh faces and minds on the AWI board would be a good start.
READ ABOUT THE OTHER CANDIDATES:
- Mulesing has to stay until viable alternative found says Webster
- AWI must increase its focus on wool and sheep research says Hocking Edwards
- AWI's culture is broken and needs fixing says Paul Cocking
- George Falkiner says its time to rebuild the flock, end mulesing and beat blowflies
- Don't take your eye off the need for wool marketing says Merriman