Elders to invest $25m in wool innovation

South Australian agribusiness Elders is investing $25 million in a world-first automated wool handling business.

Elders has unveiled plans to open two centralized wool handling hubs in Melbourne and Perth by July 2023, which will feature industry-leading innovations to improve supply chain efficiency.

Formed in 1839, Elders has a market capitalization of more than $2.3 billion and was ranked No. 10 in InDaily‘s 2021 South Australian Business Index of the state’s top 100 companies.

Elders chief executive Mark Allison claimed the project was the largest single supply chain investment in the Australian wool industry this century.

“Elders recognizes that the landscape of the Australian wool industry has changed dramatically in the last three decades and it is critical to adapt and change for Australian fiber to remain some of the best in the world,” Allison said.

The Ravenhall center in outer Melbourne will use 22 Autonomous Guided Vehicles (AGVs) to transport wool bales.

These world-first AGVs use as little as 1.5 kwh, which is similar to a small domestic heater, and significantly less energy than human-driven forklifts.

Both hubs will also harness solar power, LED lighting and energy-efficient equipment, minimizing greenhouse gas emissions and supporting Elders’ strategy of achieving 100 per cent renewable electricity in all Australian sites by 2025.

The centralization of wool handling insulates Elders from rising cost pressures, accordingly lowering costs for growers down the track, Elders communications officer Naomi Dallenogare said.

This is especially crucial as Australia is the world’s largest producer and exporter of wool.

Although Australian wool production is still well below the 1989/90 peak, it increased 3.7 percent from 2019/20 to 2020/21, and is forecast by the Australian Wool Production Forecasting Committee to increase a further 8 percent in 2021/22.

This growth can be attributed to favorable seasonal conditions, especially substantial rainfall during November, contributing to sheep flock rebuilding, according to the Australian Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment.

The amount of wool tested in South Australia during July to November 2021 has also increased by 10.7 percent compared with the same period in previous years (2017/2018 and 2020/2021).

The national figure grew by 20 percent.

According to the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, Australia exported an average of $3.8 billion of wool between 2017-2018 and 2019-2020. This figure dropped to $2.7 billion in 2020-2021 as a result of COVID-19, but is forecast to increase again with the global recovery.

The Ravenhall hub is strategically located to enable efficient access to the Port of Melbourne, which exports more than 75 percent of Australia’s wool on the east coast.

It will store 65,000 wool bales and have seven charging stations for the AGVs.

The new hubs will complement Elders’ existing selling centers in Yennora in NSW, Brooklyn in Victoria and Spearwood in WA.

Tickets for the eighth-anniversary edition of the SA Business Index – an independent ranking of the state’s top 100 companies – are on sale now.

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