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Beyond the Bale : June 2017
Beyond the Bale caught up with two of the young woolgrowers, Todd Mullan from WA and Anna Cotton from Tasmania, to get their feedback about the trip. HAS THE TRIP GIVEN YOU A GREATER UNDERSTANDING OF WHAT IT TAKES TO CONVERT RAW WOOL INTO FINAL PRODUCT? Todd Mullan (TM): Absolutely. Prior to the trip, and similar to I suspect many woolgrowers, I had no idea what happened to our wool after it is was loaded onto the truck at home. So the trip was invaluable to see the many processes the wool goes through to become the end product. AWI took us over and we toured about 4-5 different wool mills to see these processes, from the raw wool getting scoured and combed, right through knitting and weaving the yarn, and the making up into the end product. It is a surprisingly long and involved process. Anna Cotton (AC): Yes, it definitely gave us a great insight into the Chinese wool industry. Visiting the Chinese wool mills gave me a greater understanding of the milling process and the time and attention to detail that goes into producing a saleable product. The highlight of the tour for me was visiting Nanshan, purely because of the hospitality and the time Nanshan took explaining to the group each machine and how it works. WERE YOU IMPRESSED BY WHAT YOU SAW OF THE CHINESE WOOL INDUSTRY? AC: I was extremely impressed by what I saw. The level of investment that the Chinese have placed into these mills in terms of modern machines and technology is amazing. This was very encouraging from a woolgrower's point of view and I felt that the Chinese are confident in the future of wool processing. TM: The scale of the operations is indeed massive. I was surprised by the infrastructure and all the machines set up just for wool; there are hundreds of machines and it is all relatively new and modern. They have definitely invested a lot of money in the wool industry. WHAT ARE THE CHINESE MILLS' OPINIONS OF AUSTRALIAN WOOL AT THE MOMENT? AC: The Chinese love Australian wool, and they would like more than Australia can currently supply. The issues that concern them are the rising wool price and uncertainty over continuity of supply -- they have noticed the increasing trend of Australian wool-growing properties moving out of wool into other enterprises. The Chinese were thrilled to see our group of young woolgrowers though; I felt it gave them confidence and reassured them that the wool industry has a strong future and the relationship between Australia and China will continue to build over the years. TM: Yes, it is wonderful to see that the Chinese have a great love for Australian wool as a product and an industry that even rivals our passion as growers. I believe that the things that they require from us to make their processing easier and more efficient -- in regards to length, strength and good quality fleeces that handle well and open up well -- are what we are already trying to achieve with our breeding and genetics as an industry, which gives me a lot of confidence. If the price of wool continues to go up then their costs of production will go up but they won't necessarily be looking to shift to alternative fibres as all their infrastructure is set up for wool. What they really want is a sustainable price and less volatility in the market, which is what we want as growers as well. WHAT IS DRIVING DEMAND AT RETAIL IN CHINA? TM: Wool is becoming more affordable to the ever-expanding middle class, which is fantastic because, for the Chinese, buying wool products is a show of wealth. Even if a small percentage of their population is buying wool products it is still a massive market because of their huge population. AC: From what I saw, the specific sectors driving demand in China are next to skin apparel, sports and activewear, casual wear and baby products. The increase in washing machine ownership is also driving the demand for easy care machine washable wool products. WHAT IS YOUR OPINION OF THE WORK BEING DONE BY THE AWI OFFICES IN HONG KONG AND CHINA? AC: The research and development being done by AWI was great to see. I particularly liked the developments in water resistant wool outerwear. There was also a large focus on wool education -- training the wool industry's future generations through competitions was encouraging to see. I would highly recommend anyone who is offered the opportunity to participate in an AWI young grower tour to do so. It was a fantastic experience to visit the AWI/TWC offices as well as the wool mills and the Knitwear Development Centre set up by AWI and Xinao. TM: Yes, it was very interesting to see the innovations AWI is working on with processors and garment makers to develop water resistant wool garments; also wool being incorporated into sportswear, sneakers, next to skin shirts, and machine washable wool garments. The Knitwear Development Centre is absolutely state of the art -- it's fantastic to see the Chinese looking to the future like us. AWI also does a lot education work with processors, retailers and students so they can gain a greater understanding of the industry as a whole from the sheep's back to the end garments. HAVING NOW COMPLETED THE VISIT, DO YOU AS A YOUNG WOOLGROWER FEEL MORE CONFIDENT ABOUT THE AUSTRALIAN WOOL INDUSTRY? AC: Definitely. I have returned from China confident and excited about the future of wool-growing in Australia. I believe the next few years will be rewarding as the demand for wool increases. The tour was also a great opportunity to network with other young woolgrowers, forming friendships Australia-wide. TM: The wool industry has some good times ahead if we continue to work with and invest in China and it's great to see AWI ahead of the game. It gives me confidence as a grower that our wool levies are invested in the right areas and broadening the uses for wool is increasing demand for our product. Q&A WITH WOOLGROWERS TODD AND ANNA Todd Mullan works at the Mullan family's 'Eastville Park' property at East Wickepin in the Upper Great Southern Region of Western Australia. It is a mixed enterprise of Merino sheep and grain growing. The family now runs Eastville Park and Quailerup West Merino studs. Anna Cotton works on her family's property 'Kelvedon', south of Swansea on Tasmania's east coast, where they farm approximately 8,000 superfine Merinos as well as nine hectares of grape vines for table wine. MARKET INTELLIGENCE 61