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Beyond the Bale : Feb 07 - Mar 07
By Melissa Marino Anew study into pastoral-zone Merino wool over the past 15 years has provided landmark data for the first time on the region, revealing the impact of drought and other factors on wool production and quality. The report, Australian Wool Production in the Pastoral Zone, undertaken for AWI by Woolmark market economist Paul Deane, reveals a notable decline in wool production in the pastoral zone -- particularly in the past decade -- driven by the drought that started in 2002-03. It also shows that wool grown in the pastoral zone has a higher fibre diameter and more vegetable matter than the Australian Merino average. But Mr Deane says the report also illustrates that pastoral-zone wool is longer and stronger than the national average, which is good for market demand for the region's medium- micron wool. Mr Deane says the findings give an insight into the characteristics and production of wool in the pastoral zone, and may strategically assist AWI in evaluating on-farm R&D opportunities in the rangelands and in other areas related to the market, such as supply chains. While general wool production data exists in relation to the states and the national clip, this is the first comprehensive analysis of the pastoral zone, as defined by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARE). The zone covers 77 per cent of Australia across Western Australia, South Australia, New South Wales and ueensland. The report found that the contribution made by the pastoral zone to wool production dropped by a third in 15 years, from 15 to 17 per cent of total shorn wool production (between 152 and 172 million kilograms greasy) in 1990-91 to 10 to 12 per cent (45 to 55 million kilograms greasy) in 2005-06. The value at the farm gate fell from $363 million to $215 million in that time. The decline is attributed to drought coupled with competition for rangelands from the beef market, particularly in ueensland. Another factor has been the substitution of Merino sheep with non-wool meat-producing breeds. "The findings illustrate how severe the drought has been," Mr Deane says. "Large parts of the pastoral zone haven't had a good or average season since 2002, so the fact that it hasn't really been re-stocked and we haven't seen an increase in the proportion of wool coming out of those areas isn't surprising." The study also reveals that fibre diameter fell slightly faster in the pastoral zone than in the rest of Australia (down 1.2 micron in a decade to an average of 21.2 micron), a result Mr Deane attributes to drought, but also to national breeding trends for finer micron. But still, in 2005-06, the fibre diameter of pastoral-zone wool averaged about one micron broader than for all Merinos -- a testament to the more robust animal, better suited to the region. Mr Deane says that as the proportion and amount of medium (20 to 25 micron) Merino wool declined, new opportunities had emerged for growers in the rangelands. "Volumes have fallen so much that the low supply is actually helping to support prices," he says. "Buyers are seeking pastoral-zone wool because of the scarcity of strong medium-micron wool, and you'd expect it to stay that way certainly well into 2007." The latest report from AWI's Australian Wool Production Forecasting Committee predicts that production will fall by nine per cent nationally in 2007, and while 2006-07 figures are not covered in his report, Mr Deane says a further disproportionate drop in the pastoral zone is unlikely, due to the substantial de- stocking that has already taken place. But he says a key period will be early 2007, as growers hope for summer rain and growth, with the season "on the knife edge to some extent". However, despite this, pastoral-zone production will remain an integral part of the industry. "There are a lot of areas in the rangeland where sheep will always do better than cattle and it's going to be an important supplier of medium wool production into the future." ú More information: Paul Deane, 03 9341 9188, email@example.com Pastoral zone rising to the challenge An ongoing battle with drought and other environmental conditions that affect wool quality has made life hard for pastoral-zone woolgrowers, but a new report shows the region still has a reserve of positive factors to build on 8PASTORAL ZONE BEYOND THE BALE A positive outlook: Brian Rowe at 'Wolhalla' in the Flinders Ranges. PHOTOS: EVAN COLLIS
Feb 07 - Mar 07 Supplement
Dec 06 - Jan 07