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Beyond the Bale : September 2010
25 September 2010 BEYOND THE BALE FAST FACTS l Woolgrowers need to ensure that they keep selection for breech wrinkle in balance with other traits in their breeding objective. l Relying on increased staple length to maintain clean fleece weight while selecting away from wrinkle may have serious consequences for staple strength -- and for fleece value. Awool industry consultant has warned against advisers "over simplifying the message" when encouraging breeders to produce sheep naturally immune to breech flystrike; suggesting in particular that breeders should not lose sight of the importance of lifetime fleece value in Merino ewes. In an address to a recent AWI R&D Update, Dr Paul Swan looked at the issue of balancing the industry objective of evolving genes and management practices to confer immunity to flies, against the need to ensure Australian Merino wool meets user requirements within the global wool pipeline. "I have heard it many times that sheep with plain breeches cut less wool," Dr Swan said. "While this can be addressed by simply increasing staple length on plain bodied sheep, we need to consider very carefully the interaction of staple length with other production traits if we wish to maintain or achieve high fleece values." Citing AWEX wool market premium and discount data, Dr Swan suggested that concerns about producing 'over-long' wool were often overstated, and should not be a concern for most Merino wool growers. By comparison, processors are far more concerned about staples which are under- long or under-strength, reflecting ongoing trends toward lighter fabrics and more efficient processing. "Relative to the average fibre diameter in typical commercial wool tops, the average fibre length has increased by around 20 per cent over 20 years -- or one per cent per year", Dr Swan said, referring to the results in the industry's TEAM-3 (Trials Evaluating Additional Measurement) topmaker surveys.. WOOL PRODUCTION "The average fibre in a typical wool top now has a length of around 3.5 milimetres per micron of fibre diameter -- this equates to staples of around 4.5mm per micron in greasy wool. We should expect this trend toward relatively long fibres to continue". However, while increasing staple length may represent a real opportunity for the Merino industry, growers need to understand and guard against the real and negative impact that increasing staple length has on staple strength -- and thus on wool price. "Relying on increased staple length to maintain clean fleece weight while selecting away from wrinkle may have serious consequences for staple strength -- and for fleece value. It is critical to take into account the significant interaction between staple length and staple strength when it comes to wool price," he said. Dr Swan's comments were premised on the continuation of long-term demand growth trends for fine wool and sheepmeat, which had seen the US dollar value of the Australian clip rise by more than three per cent annually since 2001, while volume production had declined by around five per cent per year in the same period. "Had the Australian dollar stayed at 2001 value levels against the US currency, the price of wool would probably be around 45 per cent higher than it is today -- the 55 per cent appreciation of the Australian dollar against the US has effectively hidden from Australian growers the positive demand signals toward our fine wool," he said. More information: www.wool.com/flystrike Paul Swan firstname.lastname@example.org Don't forget lifetime fleece value It is important for woolgrowers to guard against any negative impact that increasing staple length has on staple strength.