24 Mar 2023

Broken wool machines leave offshore customers hanging

5:32 pm on 24 March 2023

Segard Masurel exports New Zealand wool to about 30 countries. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

One of the country's main wool exporters says overseas customers are getting nervous about delays caused by Cyclone Gabrielle.

The main wool scourer in Napier suffered severe damage during the cyclone, so is not operating.

Segard Masurel has scaled up capacity at its Clive and Timaru plants, but getting wool scoured - the process of cleaning it - in the North Island is now taking three months instead of two weeks.

It exports New Zealand wool to about 30 countries, with China and Europe the biggest customers.

Managing director Peter Whiteman said customers are asking for lead times - something that's difficult to provide at the moment.

"Five thousand tonnes of wool that was ready to export was damaged during the cyclone and had to be written off, so that has to be placed for our clients that have already had contracts in place.

"But the main wool scourer is not running and seems to have quite a long timeframe before it might be operating - at least six months. There's a small plant that can do about a third of the usual production that's working 24/7, so at least that's operating."

Whiteman said on top of the scouring issue, the greasy wool dump - a machine that condenses wool for export - is also broken.

"That's probably out of action till the end of April - so it's all a bit of a mess at the moment."

Whiteman said the industry is looking at all options, including setting up a coastal shipping route between Napier and Timaru to get wool to the South Island for processing.

"But of course, lots of buyers have got no wool and we can't ship any to them so they're getting a bit nervous, which is fair enough.

"We're doing everything we can to get wool to them promptly, but for instance the North Island is now full until June, so we can't get any new orders scoured until July. So yeah, there's a few people in a little bit of trouble overseas over this."

Segard Masurel's customers mainly use the wool for carpets and knitwear.

Whiteman said some might look elsewhere to fill their orders.

"For the poorer-quality yes, because around the world there's plenty of poorer-quality stuff… but for the better-style white wool which makes the better-quality carpets, not really, because New Zealand is the main producer of that sort."

The next issue is going to be finding storage for wool in the North Island as the amount needing processing backs up, he said.

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