Rock-Bank Merino and Poll Merino stud principal John Crawford said Wal Merriman has done a fantastic job.

Woolgrowers respond to AWI

MERINO stud breeders have responded to the controversy that has recently followed Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) chairman Wal Merriman.

Mr Merriman has been accused of breaching the industry group’s code of conduct and putting at risk $14 million in federal government funding, but the majority of stud breeders that Stock & Land spoke to seemed more sympathetic.

Rock-Bank Merino and Poll Merino stud principal John Crawford, Victoria Valley, said AWI had done a fantastic job in recent years, with Mr Merriman at the forefront of this success.

“From the time that Wal took over at AWI (2008), he’s taken it from an average financial position, to the very strong financial position that it’s in now,” Mr Crawford said.

“Minority groups were starting to have too much power within the system, and he’s done a fantastic job as far as that’s concerned.”

He said the one-way mirror saga, in which Mr Merriman secretly watched independent woolgrowers in an anonymous focus group in June, behind a one-way-mirror, is a “storm in a teacup”.

“As far as I’m concerned, Wal had every right to sit in on that meeting to see what’s going on,” he said.

“Those people in that room have had millions of dollars of funding over the years, and to try and turn it around and say it’s too slanted to stud breeders is not true at all.”

Mr Merriman apologised for the incident at Tuesday’s Senate estimates, saying it was “not one of our proudest moments”.

“It was my mistake not to insist I be in the room - I should have said ‘this is not the way we do things’ and I apologise for it,” Mr Merriman said. But Mr Crawford is adamant that the chairman isn’t at fault.

“If Wal hadn’t been elected, we wouldn’t have a wool industry,” he said.

“Wal’s done a fantastic job, he’s got us in the position we’re in today.”

Wurrook Merino stud principal Paul Walton, Rokewood, agrees that these recent events are “non-issues”.

“I have been a wool grower for 30 years and since Wal has been chairman it is the only time we have had stable leadership without turmoil,” Mr Walton said.

“The wool market has risen, and people are getting very keen on building their wool growing operations.”

He said he believes the one-way mirror controversy received so much publicity so it would agitate the board.

“Because of the electoral system we have, it's in some people's interests to agitate to try to change the balance on the board or change the chairman, that’s why the room with the mirror is getting so much publicity,” he said.

Montrose Hill Merino stud principal George McKenzie, Illabrook, said the current state of the industry should be proof of AWI’s success.

“If people want to judge the chair, or the AWI board, they would want to look at their bottom line in this industry in the last five years,” Mr McKenzie said.

Victoria Stud Merino Sheep Breeders Association president Michael Collins said people should focus on Mr Merriman’s industry success, rather than the recent controversies.

“Wal’s overall conduct as chair, and what has transpired with AWI during the period he has been there, has resulted in outstanding success for the Merino industry,” Mr Collins said.

He said Mr Merriman has put marketing at the forefront of AWI’s program.

“There are other people who think that more of AWI’s research and development money should be put into on-farm projects, but it doesn’t matter how big your sheep is, or how much wool comes off it, if the world doesn’t want to buy wool, there’s no market for it,” he said.

He said people should move on following Mr Merriman’s apology.

“I’m not saying that AWI is perfect and that everything they’ve done is perfect, but it’s a heck of a lot better than anything that’s been done before,” he said.

Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) livestock chairman Leonard Vallance questions whether the positive wool market actually has anything to do with Mr Merriman.

“Is that attributable to Wal Merriman, and his management of the industry? I don’t think so,” Mr Vallance said.

“It’s because of a global supply of the product, it’s got nothing to do with him running the company.”

He said in actual fact, the wool industry has been lacking behind for some time.

“One of the biggest constrictions on the Australian wool industry is the lack of advancement in the actual harvesting of wool in sheep, we’re doing it the same way we did it 50 years ago,” he said.

He said if you look at any other industry, the cropping industry, vegetable industry, you will see that they are steaming ahead. He said the VFF has been pushing for oversight of AWI for some time.

“Wal Merriman’s recent behaviour is not what the industry expects from an industry leader,” he said.

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