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Beyond the Bale : Jun 07 - Jul 07
By Gio Braidotti Although Australia grows most of the world's apparel wool, the bulk of the clip is processed overseas. So when mills start complaining about rising levels of dark and medullated fibre (DMF) contamination, the question needs to be asked: has the industry lost its ability to meet the market's highest quality standards? Part of the answer is the fact that potential new sources of contamination do exist in Australia, due to the increased popularity of exotic fibre-shedding breeds imported partly in response to past low wool prices. Against this, efforts by growers to exclude contamination are arguably tighter than ever. Consequently there is an increasing body of opinion that says the quality issue needs new ways of managing DMFs throughout the supply and manufacturing chain. Key bodies such as AWI, the Australian Wool Testing Authority Ltd (AWTA) and the Australian Wool Industry Secretariat (AWIS), are keen to take the lead on the management challenge this poses, seeing an opportunity to remedy an industry-wide problem while also giving growers a shot at earning a price premium. AWTA's Dr Trevor Mahar says there is no readily available instrumentation at any point in the production/ supply chain to objectively quantify DMF contamination. "Because wool is traded many times before the finished apparel reaches the consumer, subjective estimates of DMF contamination complicate transactions and add to supply- chain and production costs," he says. Dr Peter Morgan of AWIS agrees. Both believe that what is needed is a way to identify contamination risk so similarly graded wool can be directed to appropriate end-uses, with only low-risk wool channelled into light-coloured apparel. Using the results of CSIRO research, AWTA and the Australian wool industry, with AWI support, have been developing new tools for achieving this kind of cost-saving grading. The solution takes the form of a risk-assessment tool called the DMF Risk Scheme for greasy wool, and a new instrument, FibreScan, which objectively measures tops. The DMF Risk Scheme is based on the idea that preventive steps taken by woolgrowers -- such as breeding dark fibres out of Merinos, crutching within a certain period before shearing, or separating the fleece and skirting -- can be used to reliably calculate contamination risk. Dr Mahar says that if growers voluntarily declare such information, AWTA can calculate a risk-value that is included in the auction catalogue. Under the Risk Scheme, one per cent of greasy wool is also tested at random, providing a survey of how much dark fibre is out there. The Risk Scheme has actually been in place since the 2004-05 season, when 25 per cent of eligible wool was declared. Participation is running at about 35 per cent this season and is slowly growing. However, until at least 60 per cent of the clip is sold with a contamination-risk declaration, the scheme is not able to deliver the supply- chain management required. Dr Mahar says the level of grower declaration needs to be high enough for a buyer to consider putting together whole consignments with similar risk ratings, allowing bulk channelling into appropriate end uses. Dr Morgan also sees the Risk Scheme declarations as a win/win situation for growers: "Declarations allow growers with low-risk wool to advertise the fact, while medium or high-risk lots can be targeted, right from the outset, for end uses where contaminating fibres are not a problem, saving the industry substantial downstream remedial costs." He is convinced that buyers would reward growers for the cost-saving information: "I have no doubt that this carries the possibility of a price differential. It has happened with every other parameter that is important to processors." And if contaminating fibres slip through, then the idea is to use the new instrument to catch it at the top stage, so the wool can still be redirected into end uses that will avoid extra processing costs. "Six prototype instruments have been placed in mills in various customer countries for evaluation, including four in China," Dr Mahar says. And feedback from the mills is likely to be incorporated into the final instrument. "When we have an instrument acceptable to mills, we want to take a proposal to the International Wool Textile Organisation to introduce a standardised, industry-wide method for assessing DMF contamination," he says. "That would allow the instrument to be used as a basis for trading." Growers are urged to discuss joining the Risk Scheme with their brokers. ú More information:Trevor Mahar, AWTA, 02 9892 7040; Peter Morgan, AWIS, 03 9318 0077 Call for growers to help protect Australia's reputation Industry-driven R&D is providing woolgrowers and processors with more options to avoid light-coloured apparel being ruined by dark fibres 10 IN THE SHED BEYOND THE BALE 50 50 Allan Alaya-Ay (right), research officer with AWTA, demonstrates the FibreScan instrument at an overseas mill.
Jun 07 - Jul 07 Supplement
Apr 07 - May 07