For background info - other info and copies of the presentation - click here
The meeting took place in Nashville, TN and online through web broadcast software. The buzz even generated a new story on the local news for a local TN farm. Of course the prices quoted in there should be tongue in cheek (Fiber $6 an ounce), but it was a nice article! There was also a streaming video stream which was available to folks who did not pre-register. I chose to join online (gotta love technology) as part of the web conference software. As part of the AOBA Fiber Committee, I not only was there for Alma Park Alpacas, but also for the future of the entire Alpaca Industry. In order for the industry to really grow and become a true fiber producing industry, we need to come together as a large group of breeders. I will always have a portion of my fleece clip be just for Alma Park Exclusive products and Genuine Aymara ™ products, but it would be wonderful to sell off a large portion of my 1000+ pound clip to a fiber buyer or textile manufacturer!! OK - now back to the synopsis!
Let me say first that the AOBA staff did an excellent job in the technology portion of the meeting! They also did a great job pulling the meeting all together.
A couple of tips for future meetings:
- We should have a full time moderator for the webinar participants as many of us felt left out from questions and opinions as no one was really "moderating" our chat.
- Friday or a day during the week is not the best timing for a meeting like this - there were about 100 participants both online and in person. With approx 4000 AOBA members and approx 6000 farms across the country, this was not a well attended event. Most alpaca breeders still have day jobs and many cited this as a reason that they could not attend. I was dismayed that out of over 100 alpaca farms in the US - there were only 2 perhaps 3 of us in the meeting. I would hate to think that low attendance overall was due to the fact that people are not interested in fiber and will rather chalk it up to a Friday meeting.
- Many folks stated on Facebook that they did not know of the meeting. I am not sure if the email blast did not get to enough people, people did open it or some other reason. AOBA has a page on Facebook as well - there are TONS of alpaca folks on Facebook - definitely should have been posted there. Many folks stated that my Facebook post was the only way they knew about it.
The meeting opened up addressing perhaps why the alpaca industry has not been in the "fiber market".
- Industry has historically been focused on promoting breeding stock not fiber
- Small scale producers of fiber
- Social problem in the US - rural communities is our target market thus far - but that is NOT where the money resides. Also the economy show the US is NOT getting richer!
We have all enjoyed a high priced breeding market to this point, but the fact is that if these animals are for fiber production, prices are too high. Merino sheep and even cashmere goats are $100s not $1000s of dollars to purchase and enjoy a rich long time history of commercial production!
I also believe since the majority of growers still have a "day job", many have not had enough "skin in the game" for the profits of fiber to make a difference. The economy may have brought this to a premature inevitability.
- To create and promote business model for sustainable alpaca industry
- Alpacas of all types and quality
- Promotes domestic fiber off the animal’s back to fashion
- IMPROVES the economic potential for alpaca farmers
If we can create a demand for our product, FIBER, then all growers will benefit and it will bring more people into the commercial side of the business in the rural communities who have the land and may want to move into alpacas from other forms of livestock or ag crops or do both!
The topic of cooperation was discussed and that there were "competitors" in the meeting.
- Small producers
- Mini Mills
- Alpaca Blanket project
Rod Dakan (Royal Fiber Spinnery) stated: "... there are no competitors because no one in the room is doing the same thing and 100% of the fleece is not being processed”
I think this was a statement of genius and would have to agree that we are not competing and we are ALSO NOT collaborating or cooperating.
Industry development objective around fiber!! It is "Fish or cut bait time" .
While I have been a fiber nut for about 6 of the 8 years I have been breeding alpacas, I believe there is renewed focus in our industry because of the economy and the fact that our "crop" could actually generate money is on many peoples minds and agendas. Many small producers and other organizations stated above have been making this a reality. How about now we have an "umbrella" to bring us all together and pool efforts and knowledge to benefit one and all?
Animal Statistics in the US only (From ARI):
- 2006 - 86k registered animals
- 2010 - 207k registered animals
If we do the calculation of just the registered ones (and just assume just an average of 3 pounds of blanket - ignoring 2nds, 3rds and those big studs who shear 10 pounds etc), that is 621k pounds of fiber - OVER a half of a million pounds or 310 TONS of fiber!! Can we do something with that ?? You bet! This of course does not take into account ANY fiber stored in breeders basements etc (may not be good anymore depending on storage conditions) or unregistered animals.
- Peru with 4 large processors uses 85% of the global alpaca fiber
- Peru has over 100 year history of working with alpaca fiber and this passthrough is estimated at 4000 tons !
- There are 165k ARI registered animals outside of the US currently
- Italy KNOWS about processing fiber - think about Italian Cashmere
- Australia - fiber research is amazing and growing fiber is part of their culture and government support
- Estimated that there will be 2500 TONS of alpaca fiber in 2020 in the US based on a 15-18% growth in animal population.
- In 2003, first alpacas were imported into China, who has a huge rural community and will use the alpaca from cradle to grave as fiber, food and pelts. Please see the website for alpacas in China (I know the top picture has to be llamas)
- 2010 China National Cashmere and Wool Conference – Keynote speaker Karl Spilhaus (president of National Textile Assoc and Cashmere and Camel Hair Mfg institute) - Why was there not an alpaca representative at this meeting. We NEED to be in the fiber/textile space!
- Currently the buyers of fiber in the US have a fragile system. If they do not get enough fiber or the right kinds of fiber, they cannot make production. ABP cannot make blankets, AFCNA cannot make socks, NAAFP or NEAFP cannot make product for their members to re-sell, Back to back can't make felt kits or quilt batting.
- Mini Mills are in an enviable position as they are getting a majority of fiber - why don't we utilize them further and bring them into the production chain?
- Cashmere – small specialty fiber – how come we are not looking at their path to success?
- National Textile Assoc - why aren’t we at that table?
- Work with AFCNA and other sorting/collection orgs - pilot by region that would work to serve all of us?
- Lack of adequate production support – cottage and commercial - LONG wait times in mini-mills that we would NEVER tolerate in a normal industry
Biggest Issues On our Road to Fiber:
- Value of fiber and how to do a value added strategy (don't have experience or culture like Italy or Australia)
- Not an investment opp to date (been focusing on sale of animals not fiber)
- Need Research and Development (this is on-going with AOBA fiber committee - see here for some info)
- Need volume (have the fiber) and organization (collection and distribution centers)
What can we learn from others (Cotton): Nick Hahn - private consultant and former CEO of Cotton Inc was the keynote speaker and wow what parallels to our industry. Read all about the struggle and success of Cotton Inc here.
A brief summary (all cited from www.cottoninc.com):
- Cotton was losing market share to synthetics. "In 1960, cotton apparel and home fabrics accounted for about 78% of all textile products sold at retail. By 1975, that share had plummeted to an all-time low of 34%, due to the successful incursion of synthetic fibers in the marketplace, threatening the extinction of cotton as a viable commercial commodity." (Source - www.cottoninc.com)
- 1970 - Cotton Inc is incorporated
- 1973 - The Seal of Cotton ® is introduced
- 1983 – Market share reaches 39%. Recognition of the Seal is at 63%
- 1987– Cotton regains dominant position in the textile industry. Market share reaches 49%. Recognition of the seal - 71%. Mill consumption of U.S. cotton reaches levels not seen in 15 years.
Some Problems to solve:
- First hurdle – measure production
- What about alpaca growers who did not want to cooperate?
- Since an all out advertising campaign like Cotton would be too expensive - let's explore social media like Facebook and Twitter and use the power of the Internet
- Partner with people who are already there, fashion people
Now comes the tough questions!!!!
What do we do next?
- There was a "fake" vote on whether or not we should create a new organization to focus on fiber and do what Cotton Inc did. Call it "Alpaca Alliance". I believe the majority voted yes.
- Other questions were - would you pay $250 to buy a share in this new organization? Some folks hesitated on answering this question (including me) because they didn't know what the new organization would do, how it would be organized or where the arbitrary $250 price came from.
AOBA wants to help build the tent but in NO WAY wants to own it. They simply wanted to start the conversation and be a part as any other shareholder.
Here are my thoughts on moving forward:
- We need some type of "tent" organization to focus on fiber only - NOT the animals JUST the fiber. Supply chain, collection, distribution, education etc.
- We NEED a brand - we NEED to educate the public about our product - FIBER NOT ANIMALS. I for one am tired of the "lifestyle" ads and would like fashion or fiber ads!!
- We need to give growers a choice:
- Many already utilize fiber as a small producer or cooperate with groups such as ABP, NAAFP etc etc. Have these groups be part of the "tent" and able to utilize the new brand. They have already done some amazing work from scratch - help them be MORE successful- do not try to replace or eliminate them.
- Some growers want NOTHING to do with the fiber once they grow it.
- Create a collection system to purchase fiber from these growers - Cotton growers do NOT have farm stores selling towels from their farm!
- Create a market by which their fiber can be purchased at the "farm gate". No sorting/skirting etc by them - just clip and bag.
- Education to the growers to better grow and shear their fleece - guidelines
- The New organization needs to have some independent (outside the industry) folks involved like Nick Hahn! I feel that one of the issues with our other efforts thus far is that we in-fight and do not know how to govern ourselves objectively. This happens in industries in their infancy. I say Nick Hahn has the experience and we should hire him to do what needs to be done to get this industry on the right track!
- Have patience - it took cotton 17 years to get back to where they once were because of synthetics.
- Wool and Cashmere are NOT the enemy!! We are not better than cashmere (although we are more affordable). We are not better than wool (although we feel better at the same micron). Embrace these other natural fibers! Wool (merino) at 30% blended with huacaya makes a much better all purpose yarn than either make on their own. Merino give it memory and alpaca keeps it skin touch soft.
- We need professional staff - this industry is burned out from volunteering
In creating a new enterprise I adamantly feel that it SHOULD NOT be a co-op. Co-ops rely on member support and volunteering etc. I think we need a real corporation, a staff that is answerable to the shareholders like IBM, Microsoft or Exxon!!!
I am optimistic about the future. I support moving forward into the FIBER WORLD. I vote for Nick Hahn to be brought on board to help us get started. As part of the AOBA Fiber Committee, I will relish helping with this project.
I will continue to do my own portion of Alma Park Exclusive stuff but LOOK FORWARD to the day where 80% of my clip can be purchased at my "farm gate" and I get a check for it!! The other 20% of my fiber will be the passion that I currently enjoy, but I can be more focused on the fun stuff with that 80% safely in the pipeline and off "my mind".
So until the DVD comes out - here is my synopsis! Please comment good or bad - as we are at the first steps in this process and EVERYONE's opinion matters!!!