"The majority of Australian wool will be still be sold via the open cry auction system for some time into the future, but I think it is important that there is an online or digital option available to woolgrowers," Wilson said.
WoolQ is described as a secure online platform where woolgrowers, classers, brokers and buyers can access digital tools to support all stages of the wool-growing and selling cycle.
"WoolQ is split into two units," Wilson said.
"The first is woolgrower tools that are directed fairly and squarely at woolgrowers. The second business unit is WoolQ Market and that final piece of functionality is not yet live."
The woolgrower tools include an industry forum for ideas and development, a dashboard that collects data in one central mailbox, a ready reckoner that collects data and gets a wool price, and an eSpeci to replace the conventional paper speci.
"WoolQ Market will be viewable by woolgrowers but only accessible by wool buyers and brokers," he said.
"It aims to add opportunities for wool selling that will take place outside the traditional open cry options of selling wool. We think that in 2019, there should be more access to online selling."
OPENING UP MARKETS
In 2014, Australian Wool Innovation Limited (AWI) commissioned a review of the existing wool selling system.
"The review found a fully integrated wool portal would provide better options for growers and the industry," Wilson said.
"WoolQ is the result of three years of wool industry review and consultation, commencing with the Wool Selling System Review (WSSR) in October 2014.
"AWI were keen to offer some sort of choice to the industry. We wanted to provide cost savings and effi ciencies, and improve transparency in the journey of wool from the shearing shed to the ship's rail for export. It costs a lot of money to put on an open cry market - need the real estate and a set of staff to operate.
"An electronic platform can enable access to more markets and at more times.
There should be an opportunity for all buyers to access all markets at all times.
Let's try different alternatives that have proven successful in other industries."
He said that once the concept of a wool exchange portal was accepted by the AWI board, AWI worked hard with the wool growing community, including brokers and woolgrowers, to create WoolQ.
While there has been some push back from brokers, Wilson pointed out that in other industries where broking has moved from a physical place to an online system, such as happened with the Australian stockmarket, there has been initial reluctance to change.
"There was quite a lot of disquiet in the stockbroking world before the closing of the broking fl oor, but brokers have found it to be a better and more profi table system," he said.
"With WoolQ, brokers will be ever more important because they will be the ones helping woolgrowers making the transition.
"We haven't changed the logistics process at this stage; post-trade services would still be carried out by brokers. All we're really offering is an alternative for the trade of the wool.
"We've been criticised for trying to cut people out of the process, but this is far from the truth. Only brokers will be able to access the market to sell the wool. They will still be integral to the system. The broker is still an integral part of the new paradigm we imagine.
"But this is a totally new paradigm for the industry. It will create greater services. It will create better opportunities. And better cost efficiencies."
"To date we have had in excess of 1600 woolgrower and industry registrations," he said.
"We've had 600 business profiles created on the WoolQ network; via the eSpeci we've seen more than 13,000 wool bales recorded.
"You can collect the data offl ine in the shed. It will sync automatically as soon as two bars of coverage."
Wilson said that woolgrowers can be comfortable that the data collected and stored on WoolQ is kept securely and only used for appropriate, agreed purposes.
Tasmanian woolgrower Anna Cotton is about to go into the shed for the second shearing since registering with WoolQ.
Anna described WoolQ as practical and easy to use.
"We have the iPad sitting there on the table in the shed," she said. "Everything is prepopulated - takes a bit of work before shearing to set it up but it's easy to use in the shed."
The Cotton family - Anna farms with her father Jack and brother Edward - run 7500 superfine Merinos on the 5300ha property at Swansea, on the east coast of Tasmania.
Anna and Edward are the sixth generation of the family to farm ‘Kelvedon'. For Anna, one of the most exciting things about WoolQ is the improved traceability and transparency it enables.
"It removes the margin for error in the whole industry," she said.
"I think there will be a push to have a lot of programs online and connecting to the cloud where possible. That way, if you do lose something you can always get it back. It's more secure data storage and it's really good for benchmarking yourself against the industry.
You can build graphs in the WoolQ program with how you are tracking year in and year out, kilos of wool produced, fleece weight, that sort of thing."
"The improved traceability is really important," Anna said. "It comes down to provenance as well. People outside Australia can log into the WoolQ system and see where the wool in their garments was grown.
"It's really nice for us to see where our wool goes too. In the past the wool left the farm gate and you had no idea where it was going and what it was going into Traceability works both ways."
Traceability is one of the aspects of WoolQ that AWI is keen to promote.
AWI's new strategic plan for the next three years; traceability is front and centre in that. WoolQ provides wool traceability from the sheep's back to the ship's rail before leaving Australia for processing. All that data will be collected in one central repository.
Australian Wool Innovation's (AWI) strategic plan for the next three years has been published, with traceability, consultation and measurement and evaluation highlighted as the company's major investment and operational priorities.
AWI CEO Stuart McCullough said "generation Ys and generation Zs are going to be more interested in the source of materials in the future. They will want to know where something has come from, how it was treated, what the supply chain did with it and where it is going to at the end.
We see this as a macro-consumer trend."
He described WoolQ as the first stage of the traceability journey, offering "clean digital data straight from the farm. Research projects have also been conducted on fibre traceability and the ability to identify, in a garment form, where that fibre came from."
Will Wilson said traceability has become part of the rules of the game. "It's not just a ‘nice to have'.
"Australian wool is a premium product.
WoolQ can deliver a direct line back to the woolgrower. I'm chomping at the bit to get it out there."
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