Australian wool growers have reason to celebrate this Christmas, especially producers from western Queensland.
After more than half a decade of drought, and the region losing hundreds of thousands of lambs to wild dogs in recent years, wool prices have hit record highs.
Wool grower David Counsell has a third less sheep on his station near Barcaldine in central western Queensland, but his wool cheque is likely to be the healthiest in years.
Mr Counsell is hand-feeding half of his 10,000 merino flock, this year has been one of the fifth driest in the past 95 years for the area.
“Every bale of wool that we’re sending away is worth three times more than what we are used to getting,” Mr Counsell said.
The former veterinarian expects a bale of wool that would have been worth $800 three years ago could fetch up to $3,500 when his wool goes into the market early next year.
“There is very strong demand out there for wool at the moment we’re told the supply chain is fairly empty … they’re going to be chasing us down for this wool,” he said.
He thinks it will be a saviour for the local district which has spent the past six years in drought.
“It’s going to pay a lot of bills and bring a lot of cash flow into the district and allow businesses to semi recover from this very dry time,” Mr Counsell said.
Asia driving wool demand
The Eastern Market Indicator published by the Australian Wool Exchange reported strong prices in February which have continued an upwards trend into the Christmas break.
For export buyer Scott Carmody said they were the highest prices he has paid in his 32 years in the industry.
“Individually there have been some wool types, particularly the superfine types, that have been better in the past but at the moment as an all industry we are hitting record levels,” Mr Carmody said.
The industry experienced two significant boom periods — in the late 1980s and early 1990s. After record highs the industry collapsed with an oversupply.
In the 1950s prices surged when demand for wool to make uniforms for the Korean war saw Australia “ride on the sheep’s back”.
The industry is not expecting the appetite for Australian wool to decline any time soon.
Asia is driving the demand, China imported more than 70 per cent this year.
“They are hungry for our wool clip we’ve got plenty of orders being written into prompt shipment … so we can only see the demand staying,” Mr Carmody said.
While prices have surged the industry has been distracted with controversy surrounding research and development and marketing body Australian Wool Innovation (AWI).
Chairman Wal Merriman has been tainted by the ‘man in the mirror’ scandal and after fronting a Senate Estimates in October, senators from the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport committee have referred AWI to the National Audit Office.
Fences keeping the dogs out
State and local governments and wool growers have invested millions of dollars in the past six years in western Queensland building dog-proof fences to protect lambs and it is starting to pay off.
In 2014-2015 David Counsell joined with neighbours to perimeter fence a collection of properties.
“Prior to fences I reckon we were losing over 50 per cent of our lambs from conception through to the landmarking and then once we put the fences up we went back to marking 80 to 85 per cent lambs and we’re back to full production,” he said
“The whole reason I’ve been able to keep a lot of sheep here, despite the dryer times, is I’ve had good lambings and so I have sheep to shear they haven’t disappeared down the throats of dogs.”