Tough times for Tasmania's superfine producers

Tough times for Tasmania's superfine producers

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Tasmanian superfine wool producers hang in during tough times.

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Tasmania's superfine wool growers are adapting to tough times, after last year's drought saw micron measurements fall.

A group of Tasmanian wool growers came to Melbourne for the annual Tasmanian feature sale, at Roberts' Melbourne woolstores.

Roberts Tasmania wool manager Stewart Raine said Italian buyers were active on the superfine offering.

Kelvedon, near Swansea, on the east coast of Tasmania, is one of the state's oldest wool producers.

It's been run by the Cotton family, since 1829, and now also also produces wine.

Anna Cotton, Kelvedon, was one of several Tasmanian producers who was in Melbourne for the sale.

She said the property was selling wether, ewe and weaner wool, after holding stocks over from August due to the crash in prices.

"We average about 16 micron, a lot would be below that due to drought fineness," she said.

"Conditions on the east coast have been terrible, but it's all relative.

"We are managing, but like everywhere else, we would like good rain."

Ms Cotton said the property had bought in lucerne hay to keep the sheep fed, and had also destocked.

"We sold 1500 ewes and wethers, just to give what we have a bit more space and keep them as healthy as possible," she said.

The 5300-hectare property generally runs about 8000 head, but it had been reduced to around 6000.

"Our average rainfall is 650 millimetres, we had less than half of that," she said.

The dry conditions meant having to continually buy in fodder, monitor stock and offload anything that was struggling.

The drought had also had an impact on lambing percentages, which would affect the future flock.

The Cottons had sourced rams from the mainland, as many Tasmanian breeders had moved away from superfine Merinos to a more commercial focus.

"There aren't enough superfine studs in Tasmania producing what we really want," Ms Cotton said.

As a result, the property used rams from Alfoxton, NSW, Beverley, Sutton Grange, and out of Cooma, NSW.

"The style of sheep those studs are producing really suit our climate, but we also bought a superfine Merino from Trefusis, at Bendigo (the Australian Sheep & Wool Show) a couple of years back," she said.

"He's performing really well."

The superfine Merinos were smaller and required less food.

"They can survive on less, if we had a larger-framed Merino with an increased daily food requirement, they would really struggle and waste away," she said.

The wethers were turned out onto "run country" - a mix of native pastures and bush - so had to be able to be structurally sound to walk to water points.

Kelvedon, which had been operating predominantly on native grasses, had recently moved to pasture improvement and pivot irrigation, to help drought-proof the property.

It also meant being able to cut hay in tough years.

"Then we've always got a bit of green pasture on hand for these drought years, which are becoming more common," Ms Cotton said.

"The rate and severity of change has really increased."

Cecilia and Jeremy Jones, Lynwood, Lower Marshes, agreed it had been a tough year.

"We are pretty proud of what we've got this season, it was a pretty tough year," Ms Jones said.

They were representing their parents, Andrew and Maria Jones, at the sale.

Ms Jones said they were running 4500 traditional Saxon Merinos, using Beverley and Alfoxton bloodlines.

"We went a bit too fine this year, just because of the season, from 14.5 micron up to about 16 micron," she said.

"Last year it was very, very dry and dusty, but we do have a lot of bush country."

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