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Beyond the Bale : June 2018
Woolgrowers and stud breeders from around the world were thick on the ground at the conference itself as well as the pre and post conference tours. More than 100 Australian woolgrowers joined their contemporaries from New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina, the United States, Lesotho as well as many naturally from the host country of Uruguay, with representatives also from Russia, Portugal, Italy and France amongst others. Overcoming the language barriers was just one of the many triumphs of the World Federation of Merino Breeders and the Uruguayan Merino Breeders Society that did much of the heavy lifting in terms of organising. The two-day conference heard from many speakers on many topics – from genetic evaluation and forecasting to climate change, traceability and marketing developments. AWI was represented by Corporate Communications Manager Marius Cuming, who spoke of AWI’s latest marketing developments as well as the increasing trend of using woolgrowers at the front and centre of this marketing of the natural fibre alongside a growing list of retailers and brands. One of the strong themes to emerge from the conference was the desire for all countries to lift the numbers in their Merino flocks given the solid present and future prospects for both wool and meat. However every country that spoke also pressed the serious limitations around any significant lifting in either Merino wool or meat production in the short to medium term. Naturally, Australia, as having the lion’s share of the global Merino flock, is limited by seasons, but also in pastoral regions by the continued prevalence of wild dogs, in more higher rainfall regions by the preference for cropping by many younger people, the high price of prime lamb and, in some regions, a lack of infrastructure and even knowledge around wool production. This was outlined to a captivated audience by newly appointed Australian Association of Stud Merino Breeders President Peter Meyer. However this was echoed across the globe by equivalent constraints in other countries. In New Zealand, production cannot significantly lift due to land use and in some areas, conservation. In Uruguay and Argentina, weaning rates are seriously hampered by predation not only by foxes but pumas that can take many lambs in a night. In South Africa, predation by people, socio-political change and the expansion of mining is putting large caps on any potential expansion. Every Merino producing country has very strong reasons why they won’t be significantly expanding their flock size any time soon. But this restriction of supply only feeds into the continued levels of optimism around the Merino according to the new President of the World Federation of Merino Breeders, Will Roberts. “It’s been really wonderful to come and speak with woolgrowers from around the world and it is true that we are all in a similar situation of limiting supply,” he said. “Couple this with the increasing demand for Merino wool across growing markets and increasing discretionary income in large countries such as China, the USA and India and the future continues to look very bright for the Merino... as long as it rains!” The 10th World Merino Conference in Montevideo, Uruguay in mid April will remain memorable for many reasons, not the least of which was the genuine sense of optimism for wool. WORLD MERINO CONFERENCE IN SOUTH AMERICA Wool-growing in Argentina is predominantly limited to the region of Patagonia, essentially at the southern end of South America. Merino enterprises in the region range from very large corporate farms such as those run by the Benetton Group right through to many small family operations. One of the warmest welcomes the Australian delegation received was from the Gonzalo family at the Rio Pico Estate in the Chubut province of Patagonia. Julian and Estela Gonzalo run the farm with their three adult children: Julian, Maria (both vets) and Rodrigo who is an agricultural engineer. The farm is run as a board of five with a permanent staff of three gauchos and the mix of history and family makes for a strong and diverse team. Now in the hands of the fifth generation of the family that established the property in 1910, the farm is 30,000 hectares and is situated at the foothills of the Andes mountains, receiving between 300mm and 500mm annually with up to one metre of snow. Needless to say the temperature variation is extreme with 30 degrees in the summer through to -30 degrees in the depths of winter. Across this extreme environment the Gonzalo family runs 18,000 mainly Merino and Poll Merino sheep, of which 8000 are WOOL-GROWING IN PATAGONIA 64 ON FARM Rio Pico wool-growing property in Patagonia.
In the Shops - September 2018