FOR six decades, the Australian Association of Stud Merino Breeders has been at the forefront of issues affecting the nation's sheep and wool industry.
It has advocated for members, promoted their interests, and worked to ensure the integrity and improvement of the important Merino bloodlines.
As the association celebrates its 60th anniversary, president Peter Meyer believes the future is bright.
"I was at the World Merino Conference in Uruguay last year and that showed the high value placed on Australian genetics there and in Argentina, Chile and many other of our export markets," said Mr Meyer, who runs the Mulloorie stud in South Australia.
"The message we brought back was that Australian Merino sheep are considered the best in the world and they are using our genetics to improve their flocks and wool types."
The association formed in 1959, when representatives of six individual state-based bodies joined forces under inaugural president George Falkiner to give Merino stud breeders a national platform.
The New South Wales Sheepbreeders Association led the charge, supported by organisations in Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia, Queensland and Tasmania.
Its prime objectives included taking over production of the Australian Stud Merino Flock Register, which had been maintained by the NSW body since the first volume was published in 1923.
The AASMB also set out to defend breeders' rights in an often unpredictable national and international environment by liaising with government and industry leaders.
In the early days, it sought input into the marketing of the Australian wool clip, lobbied for land tax relief for stud operators and campaigned for the Merino export embargo to be relaxed.
AASMB life member Robert Ashby AM said the organisation had evolved "from being a true breed society to becoming more influential in industry policy and decision making".
"It is very important for stud breeders to have a national voice," Mr Ashby said, who served as president from 1994-97 and operated the Old Ashrose Stud in Hallett, SA.
"Merino stud breeders were not sufficiently well represented in matters relating to industry restructure, stockpile and marketing management.
"We now have a much stronger presence."
The group has had input into bodies like Australian Wool Innovation, the former Wool Council, the Australian Federation for the Welfare of Animals, the Australian Merino Sire Evaluation Association, Meat & Livestock Australia, the Wool Forecasting Committee and various departments of agriculture.
It hosted the first World Merino Conference in 1982 and was instrumental in achieving a flexible selling strategy for the wool stockpile in the mid-1990s.
Today, the AASMB maintains its original aims of keeping the Flock Register, advocating for its 900-plus members, and fostering the breeding of high-quality stud Merino and Poll Merino sheep.
In the past 12 months, it has been involved in matters including stud sheep exports, wild dogs, pain relief, mulesing, a shortage of wool classers and shed hands, and falling Merino numbers.
Former president Georgina Wallace - the first female to hold the role - said the Breed More Merino Ewes campaign that started in 2016 under her leadership was a crucial initiative, given the huge drop in Merino numbers over the past 30 years.
In the late 1980s, approximately 75 per cent of the nation's 180 million sheep were Merinos, while today the breed makes up only 50-65pc of the total flock of 70 million.
"We want to see the Merino industry in Australia remain viable because they are the backbone of the nation's flock," the Trefusis stud master from Tasmania said.
"We were getting down to very critical numbers and our concern was, where are people going to source their ewes from in future?
"Through this campaign, we highlight the profitability of Merinos and try to encourage people back into the industry - get them to sit down and do the sums about what they can run on their property.
"Merinos are a dual-purpose animal that produce a wonderful fibre, can be very adaptable to first-cross operations, and produce fantastic meat."
Mr Meyer said Australian wool would be a long-sought-after commodity because it was a natural and biodegradable fibre renowned for its quality around the world.
He said the AASMB was committed to continuing its work representing members and improving the breed to meet future consumer needs.
"In recent times, we have lobbied the Federal Government to ensure the live sheep trade continues, which is particularly important for our members in Western Australia and SA," he said.
"It is a vital trade that sets the benchmark for sheep prices here in Australia.
"We are also currently dealing with government departments on artificial insemination matters, to make sure we have got enough AI medication.
"There has recently been a shortage of [hormone drugs] like Pregnecol, since it stopped being manufactured in Australia, but we're hoping to get that addressed by the end of July.
"A firm is going through the process of getting government clearances to be allowed to bring it into the country, which will help."
The AASMB will mark its 60th anniversary at a dinner during the Australian Sheep & Wool Show in Bendigo.
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