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Beyond the Bale : Feb 07 - Mar 07
By Rebecca Thyer Having a well-planned exit strategy is playing an integral part in increasing stocking rates and overall productivity for Western Australia's woolgrowers. Consultant Ed Riggall, who leads 'The Sheep's Back' -- an AWI-funded extension program that aims to help producers increase stocking rates by 10 per cent over a two-year period -- says that educating producers about exit strategies is vital in boosting productivity. Low stock levels are often due to negative incidents, he says. "Bad experience of high stocking rates in poor seasons or stories of how parents or grandparents had attempted higher stocking rates only to be undone by a dry year has forced producers down the dollar-per-head path." He says this leads to hard-won profits and a lack of control. Having an effective exit strategy in place can combat this and is where 'The Back Door' module of The Sheep's Back course is important, Mr Riggall says. During this module the group looks at the financial and psychological costs of a bad year and learns to recognise a bad season. "A bad season happens incrementally and with this in mind we workshop various exit strategies," he says. "At the end of the module each individual designs their own exit strategy, which the consultants sign off on." He says this serves two purposes: "First, it ensures that sheep are kept in good condition and the farm is stocked appropriately for the season. And second, it means plans are thought through when growers are not under stress and are better able to make decisions. The benefit is that they are also making decisions ahead of the pack." Woolgrower Ben Sprigg, from Cranbrook in WA, agrees. "I've become more focused and aware of the fact that if I make a decision early, I'm ahead of the pack. It means we're prepared and not chasing our tail." Mr Sprigg, who runs 3400 merino ewes, says his strategy is simple: buy more feed. "However, acting fast to do that ensures I get it at the right price so we remain profitable." He says the course has really helped him focus: "As a young grower who's done a lot of courses, it's the best one I've ever done." Exit strategies were crucial during the 2006 season, Mr Riggall says. "Most participants have been in control and made decisions early, whether it was selling stock or buying in feed. This equated to getting good prices for sheep, buying grain at good prices and having sheep on hand in excellent condition for lambing." The exit strategy is based on the DSE (dry sheep equivalent) appropriate for the grower's environment -- calculated from rainfall, length of the season and when, Beating down the back door A 'back-door' strategy is helping WA producers boost stocking rates 14 STOCKING RATES BEYOND THE BALE on average, the first break occurs. This DSE calculation can be changed if the season changes. For example, if the season breaks later than expected, the DSE can be revised and an exit strategy put in place. This could involve selling sheep, buying in lupins or removing paddocks from cropping. "It's a simple concept but producers have to be disciplined to use it," Mr Riggall says. "The result is adequate feed, sheep in good condition and a feeling of being in control." He says the concept was tested during the 2006 season. "By March 2006, 75 per cent of our participants indicated they had increased their stocking rate. It was right on the back of a bumper year so lots of twins were expected. But when the rain didn't come, growers started putting their exit plans into place -- buying in feed early before prices rose, for example. "Taking action early took the weight off their shoulders and it is a credit to them how well they handled probably one of the worst seasons on record." ú More information: Ed Riggall, 08 9736 1583 Woolgrowers undertaking a condition scoring exercise as part of 'The Sheep's Back' exit-strategy program. Demand gauged for ethical wool New research has identified a notable level of buyer demand for 'ethical wool' in overseas apparel markets. A study in Japan, Western Europe and the US by the Woolmark Company suggests this could become an emerging product categor y for Australian woolgrowers and the textile industry over the next five years. The study included large apparel stores with turnovers of US$500 million or more, as well as niche companies -- typically the pioneers of ethical products.The study was commissioned by AWI and the Queensland Depar tment of Primar y Industries and Fisheries. Ethical wool products are defined as those made from fibre grown in an environmentally sustainable manner and according to recognised animal welfare, human rights and social justice standards. Most respondents said they were interested in sourcing ethical wool in the future, with more than half indicating they would pay a premium for on-farm audited and cer tified 'ethical Australian Merino wool'. But while there is strong growth forecast for the demand of ethical wool, the research shows that overall the market is likely to remain a small, niche business. Ethical apparel in all fibres is currently estimated to represent 1.4 per cent of total apparel sales, growing to 4.8 per cent by 2011. The research found demand for ethical wool was strongest and growing in segments where wool does not traditionally have a significant presence, including in casual wear, spor tswear and intimates. It also revealed that growth in demand could not rely alone on the promotion of wool's ethical production credentials. Quality, functionality and 'next-to-skin' comfor t would also have to meet consumer expectations. Ian Rogan, AWI's general manager of wool production, says that while Australian Merino wool is regarded as one of the world's more sustainably grown fibres, the research will assist AWI to help growers and textile manufacturers meet the stringent conditions required in the production of ethical wool. The research will feed into the federally funded AWI Wool Pathways Project, which is establishing a framework and standards for an industry-wide system of accounting for chemical residue, animal welfare and the environmental credibility of Australian Merino wool. Mr Rogan expects the system to be rolled out in mid-2007 after modules to test standards are finalised and an intensive on-farm trial program has been completed. "Using this system, we can work with those companies identified in the research who are interested in sourcing and promoting 'ethical Australian Merino wool'," Mr Rogan says. "We now have an indication of the level of interest, the specifications and the standards required by potential supply chain par tners to meet these market requirements." -- MELISSA MARINO More information: Ian Rogan, 02 9299 5155, email@example.com
Feb 07 - Mar 07 Supplement
Dec 06 - Jan 07