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Beyond the Bale : June 2017
"Sheep prices are high, wool prices are at record levels, and our workers and contractors are happy because we can now provide them with a state of the art working facility," Jeff says on his 'Brooklands Park' property at Kweda, about 45km east of Brookton in the Southern Wheatbelt region of WA. That facility is a $300,000 monument to Australia's wool industry -- a huge, modern shed and yards that will outlast numerous future generations of the Edwards' farming dynasty. It's an investment that Jeff says is his tangible commitment to Merino sheep remaining in the business for the long term. Farming 8,400 ha with his wife Lear and daughter Chloe, Jeff says being in the new shed at shearing time is an exciting place to be. "There is nowhere else I'd rather be," Jeff says. "To invest in something of this magnitude was a huge emotional decision, but it wasn't a gamble at all." According to Jeff, the wool industry was heading in only one direction. "Here we are surrounded by continuous croppers -- there are less and less sheep, and INVESTING IN THE FUTURE The gleaming new shearing shed on the property of wool producer Jeff Edwards of Kweda in Western Australia is evidence of his unwavering belief in the future profitability of the wool industry. there is more and more demand. That's just simple maths," he says. "So combine those higher prices for both meat and wool with lower costs than a grains enterprise, and all of a sudden, the sheep industry is a very profitable place to be." Jeff says in the same year they finished building the new shed, the business also signed up for a new harvester for the same amount of money. "But this shed won't depreciate in value, while a machine, be that a header or a tractor or a sprayer, will drop a quarter of its value in the first 12 months," he says. MODERN FACILITY The galvanised steel structure is unlike most traditional shearing sheds found on any average wool-growing property. "This shed was a huge outlay for our business, but it's now paying dividends and I'm incredibly glad we made the decision to invest in our wool enterprise." Jeff Edwards, wool producer, WA While the enormous building was a big enough investment on its own, it's the internal fit out, plus the professionally designed yards, that really makes this structure a sophisticated facility. "It's a 5-stand raised board horse shoe design, so it's much easier, physically, on the shearers and shed hands than a traditional design, and being a horse shoe shape, everyone can see what is going on, at all stands, at all times," Jeff says. The shed can hold 850 sheep, which allows for a whole day of shearing despite the weather. "Older sheds were designed when shearing was much slower, using the narrow combs," Jeff says. "I haven't seen any other shed that can hold this many sheep, and in terms of productivity, its been fantastic, and generally our shearing goes smoothly." RETAINING SHEARERS In 2012, Jeff admits his relationship with his shearing contractor hit a fork in the road. "Our old shed had been built out of discarded scrap wood, the sheep yards were homemade, and we could see there wasn't much life left in the old building. Our head contractor gave it two years at most," he says. "We knew then that we had to do something significant to make the sheep side of the business work for us. "We have been using the same shearing contractors for many years, and since we now provide such a modern facility, we are confident of retaining this team into the longer term." RELIABLE SOURCE OF INCOME Stepping back to the 1990s, Jeff's sheep enterprise consisted solely of trading wethers. When wool prices hit rock bottom, he says he almost made the decision to get completely out of sheep. "I've always been interested in sheep, and so this would have been a massive decision for our business," he says. Jeff's passion for sheep was re-ignited in 2003 when he purchased an additional property, which came with 1,500 mated ewes. "That was certainly a turning point for me. I saw how much you could make from sheep and how little you had to spend." Jeff says while sheep may not have seen the massive highs of the grain industry over the past few decades, they also haven't suffered the recent lows. "In our business, the profit line for the sheep has been stable and the cost of running a Merino flock has been low." Both of which, he says, have made his entire business sustainable. Jeff Edwards and his daughter Chloe in their new shed at Kweda, east of Brookton in the Southern Wheatbelt region of Western Australia. 44 ON FARM