Merinos to hit the wall
Wool prices have risen to sustainable levels but a major crisis is looming for the Merino industry.
This is being caused by the fall in numbers of merino ewes joined to merino rams which is unsustainable given the number of merinos used to breed first cross and terminal sire fat lambs.
With our national flock now down from a high of 176 million to 73 million the number required to sustain the numbers for replacements and crossbreed production is 25 million merino breeding ewes.
Currently only 18 million are being joined for pure merino lambing.
Divide that figure by half to allow for males and then by average lambing percentage then easy to figure out Merinos will need to be kept for many more years than current culling rates allow.
While the statistics produced by BARE show the numbers; either AWI have not done the sums or they are keeping this information from producers and buyers.
What dampened the wool market from reaching higher levels recently was the amount of wool kept either in store or in sheds or from sheep shorn earlier which hit the market during the recent higher prices.
Wool buyers best not believe that wool will keep flowing onto auctions at the same rate because they will be bitterly disappointed. For many years buyers have had an oversupply working in their favour , failing to pay a sustainable price when compared with alternative farming enterprises but the wheel is turning and a supply of top quality wool will become very scarce.
The main factor causing this is the comparative returns from meat sheep and the desire of the next generation to work from a tractor seat. While we have lost one generation the one now taking up the role are not prepared to work like peasants and for peasant rate of returns so are opting to enjoy life away from dedicated arduous work and the harsh climatic conditions that a farming career in Australia presents. Much easier to press a button to activate the GPS tracking and leave all the gates open. The amount of capital required to be a farmer nowadays is also a great deterrent. The dedicated sheep farmers are now an ageing part of the primary producer population who as they retire so do their merino sheep flocks taking with them the wealth of knowledge and experience these dedicated sheep men possess. An analogous situation played out in Singapore whereby that country lost all food production when peasant farmers encouraged their children into more lucrative employment and they sold off all the good highly productive land which ended up under highways and high rise housing.
Australia cannot ride on the sheep’s back without merinos.
*Ken Calder, Wareek
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