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Beyond the Bale : Jun - July 08
Profile Tom Small Woolgrower, AWI M200 Ambassador and Next Generation panel member Australian Wool Innovation Limited AWi, GPo Box 4177, Sydney NSW 2001 Even when he was studying agriculture at university, Tom Small could see there would be times in his wool-growing career when he would be swimming against the tide: “Back then, almost 100 per cent of the blokes wanted to go into cropping and 100 per cent of the women wanted to work with livestock. Of the fellows, I think I was the only one who didn’t want to play with big toys,” he recalls. Today, running – with his wife Jenny – 10,000 Merinos on his family’s property, ‘Tottington’, at St Arnaud in western Victoria, Tom suspects he is one of only a handful of young farmers in Victoria who still generate most of their income from wool growing. This has been a strong motivating factor to become an ambassador for his industry, taking on roles within AWI advisory groups and hosting visits from wool processors. He wants to give young woolgrowers a voice and gain a greater understanding of the wool value chain. “The whole experience has opened my eyes,” he says. “I’ve gained a much greater appreciation of the demands of processors and better understand who the end-user really is.” In 2007, Tom was an AWI Ambassador for the Merino 200 celebrations and currently is on the Next Generation panel, a team of young people from all areas of the wool industry who get together informally to discuss and debate issues and formulate ideas. “It’s made me realise the calibre of the people in the wool industry and their dedication to taking Australian Merino wool to the world, which just gives me further optimism about my wool-growing enterprise.” Wool from the ‘Tottington’ flock has an average micron of 18, and the enterprise produces 30 kilograms a hectare of wool annually. An important trait to the Smalls is tensile strength. Consequently, to avoid low tensile strength and high mid-breaks (and resultant lower prices) they shear in autumn. “When you see your wool come up and the buyers are putting in bids straight away it’s a good feeling and you know you are providing the fibre they are after,” he says. The Smalls focus heavily on the environmental impact of their enterprise and in the past five years have planted more than 65,000 trees. While making their property a better place for the next generation was the purpose of the exercise, Tom believes it will stand them in good stead to take advantage of eco wool labelling and wool marketing opportunities. In the back of their minds, the Smalls felt it could also help achieve carbon neutral status for their property. “While I agree with the ideals of organic wool production, I’ve researched it and we couldn’t manage it on our property. But hopefully the environmental aspects of our operation can be rewarded in some way. “The Europeans have tight controls over the products coming into their markets, as we have seen with the mulesing issue, but with the opportunities presented by their tight adherence to environmental controls there will be a net gain for Australian woolgrowers from these stringent standards. “This industry is already providing an environmentally friendly fibre and nothing really matches it in terms of sustainability. These controls will further illustrate that.” Another 10,000 trees are to be planted on the property this year, as part of a program which involves local school children planting trees grown from local seed they collected as part of learning about the environment. As for encouraging more of his generation back to the industry, Tom says it is still hard to distract his peers from their ‘big boy’s toys’. He also acknowledges that woolgrowers do not have the ‘big’ years that grain growers can experience, but he believes this is balanced by wool’s more consistent income. “And with wool there are always opportunities for improving your enterprise, and in ways that reward you for your effort.” Wool is also steeped in history and, in fact, the Smalls have the oldest working shed in the country, an evocative, heritage- listed building hewn from local timber almost 160 years ago. It is a reminder of the industry’s resilience and, for Tom, it also strengthens his sense of purpose as he plays his part in building tomorrow’s history. – KEllIE PENfOld More information: Tom Small, 03 5499 8290, email@example.com New generation reaches out to wool’s users PHOTO: BrAd COllIS
Jun - Jul 08 Supplement
Aug - Sep 08