Silicon Valley partnership for New Zealand Merino Company

Harnessing Silicon Valley talent will help Merino growers reduce their impact on the environment, and the rewards will follow, said John Brakenridge, chief executive of New Zealand Merino Company. Photo / New Zealand Merino

Thanks to a California connection, New Zealand Merino Company (NZM) executives are confident they can exceed $105 million in sales this year.

The company has formed a partnership with a Silicon Valley tech platform called Actual to harness some of its smartest innovation and tech brains.

This will be incorporated into NZM’s long-term contract, storytelling and bonus model through its ZQRX program with partner brands such as Smartwool, Allbirds icebreaker and Reda.

The goals are to create more value for farmers from their carbon responsibilities and to help shoppers buy woolen garments that last longer.

The joint venture was launched earlier this month at a ceremony attended by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and California Governor Gavin Newsom under a pōhutukawa tree in San Francisco.

John Brakenridge, head of NZ Merino, was a delegate to the Prime Minister’s trade mission to the United States.

He said Silicon Valley tech companies are masters of machine learning, and Actual’s contribution could come in the form of predictive models at farms that might show a need for more planting or moving stock. .

The positive environmental impact of these tools for monitoring and measuring their carbon footprint would help partner brands earn higher premiums in the marketplace.

This would incentivize farmers to reduce their carbon emissions and increase their biodiversity, he said.

He said woolen garments showing substance, traceability and low impact were in line with the United States where environmental, social and corporate governance were now enshrined in legislation, he said.

“We are thrilled with all the interest in agriculture and technology and having some of the smartest people leaning in and supporting our group of farmers.

“Farmers are under increased pressure for compliance and so on and capping that with carbon, so that’s a way of bringing that together that is of real benefit to producers.”

Brakenridge said a big part of approaching carbon in agriculture is through compliance and a “tax mindset”, but the joint venture will work to create opportunities.

He said more value would be added by differentiating the joint venture partners’ brands from others in the market.

“I am determined to [improve] the sales of our brand partners running with ZQRX of more than 105 million dollars and we are investing in it.

“We believe this is the way of the future and we will continue to seek substantial growth not only for fine wool, but also for mid-micron and solid wool.”

Current co-founder Karthik Balakrishnan said the initiative will provide steps for farmers and their brands to improve their sustainability and impact on the planet.

New Zealand’s network of fine, mid-micron and coarse wool breeders now has an area of ​​2 million hectares, or just under 15% of New Zealand’s pastoral farmland.

Brakenridge said Californians appreciate the magnitude of this land area and also believe that the way forward will not be through an adversarial approach.

There was a move towards slow fashion and natural fibers, he said.

“People come out of this [Covid-19] period and are much more considerate in their purchases in the United States. »

On average, the clothes were only worn seven times. Globally, textiles were the second biggest polluter behind oil and gas.

“Buying clothes, and a lot of synthetics, and throwing them away after seven uses with all those microplastics is not the way to go,” Brakenridge said.

Shoppers would be better off buying less low-impact clothing and wearing it more often.

New Zealand merino says its wool accounts for about 15% of the country’s supply, but is worth 43% of that country’s wool clip value.

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