Development of the Industry
1835–1916: Wool and tallow, our only important pastoral products in the early days, were regularly shipped to Britain for sale and it was not until 1866 that the first wool auction sales were held locally. These quickly became popular, and soon British merchants were sending wool buyers to the New Zealand auctions. Other countries followed suit. Some of the big stations, however, continued to ship their wool to the London wool market, and a few still do this.
1916–20: Under a proclamation of 1916 the Crown became the sole buyer and seller of wool in New Zealand. During the remainder of the First World War, and up to 1920, Britain bought all New Zealand wool at a fixed price. This period is generally referred to as “the commandeer”.
1920–39: At the close of “the commandeer” Britain still held enormous stocks of unsold wool, including almost 800,000 bales from New Zealand. To prevent complete market chaos the British Australian Wool Realisation Association Ltd. (BAWRA) was set up and successfully disposed of the surplus between 1921 and 1924 without upsetting the market. Between the two world wars sheep numbers and wool production increased fairly steadily, though wool prices fell to ruinous levels of 3d. and 4d. a pound during the Depression.
1939–45: When war broke out in 1939 Britain once more offered to buy all New Zealand's wool for the duration of the war and one season thereafter. The average general price of the clip to be paid to the New Zealand grower was fixed at 12·25d. per pound and a team of appraisers was set up to value the many individual lines of wool. This was generally known as the “appraisement scheme”. A type and price schedule, known as the “Bareme”, was drawn up for all grades of wool: 977 individual types of greasy wool were listed with a “clean scoured” price for each. This was a tremendous task, as the general average price to the farmer for the 800,000 odd bales of greasy wool falling into these many different grades had to work out at 12·25d. per pound greasy. In 1942 the price was increased to 13·95d. per pound.
For many years New Zealand had eight selling centres for wool – Auckland, Napier, Wanganui, Wellington, Christchurch, Timaru, Dunedin, and Invercargill. During the appraisement scheme Tokomaru Bay, Tolaga Bay, Gisborne, Nelson, Blenheim, and Oamaru were added as appraisal centres. The seven wool clips from 1939–40 to 1945–46 were bought under this scheme.
1946–51: At the end of the war there was again an accumulation of more than 10 million bales of stockpiled wool in Britain, including 1¾ million bales from New Zealand. Once again a special organisation was set up to deal with it – this time called the “joint organisation”, usually called the “J.O.”. It set up minimum reserve prices for each grade of wool. Its main work was to sell stockpiled wool without disrupting the market, though it would also if necessary buy in new-clip wool when auction prices were below the reserve price. The New Zealand branch of “J.O.” became known as the New Zealand Wool Disposal Commission, and only once, in 1946–47, did it have to buy in much wool (nearly 108,000 bales, which it later resold at a profit). It was supposed to be a stabilising influence, but it did not have enough of the right kinds of stock wool in the right selling places to prevent the very high prices of 1948 to 1951. It successfully liquidated stocks and, its work done, was terminated in 1951. Growers provided half the operating costs of the “J.O.” scheme through a “contributory charge”.
1952 to the Present: It had been hoped to follow with a Commonwealth scheme for a reserve-price plan for wool – but Australia withdrew. Eventually New Zealand went ahead alone with its present “floor prices” plan, which was launched with the Wool Commission Act, from January 1952. The New Zealand Wool Commission must mainly ensure minimum or “floor” prices for New Zealand wool sold at auction. The Commission has not so far been severely tested by a long period of low prices which would force it to buy in a lot of wool at floor prices. Indeed, the reverse has been the case – prices have generally been well above the floor level and most of the relatively small amount of wool bought in has been resold later at a profit.
The capital funds of the Commission came originally from the Government's half share of the “J.O.” profits – about £20 million, plus the balance, about £6 million, remaining in the woolgrowers' contributory charge account. This capital has since been increased by interest on investments and profits on resale of wool. The Commission is not only self-supporting but also contributes money to the activities of the New Zealand Wool Board.