Tuloona's ultrafine balanced targets

Sustainable certified wools bring returns last seen two decades ago

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Sustainable certified wools are bringing returns last seen two decades ago for ultrafine producers.

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ULTRAFINE Merino wool values of 2800 cents a kilogram greasy mirrored the prices first seen by Michael and Jane Craig of Tuloona Pastoral, 20 years after they entered the industry.

Extreme prices were paid for ultrafine lots and those Responsible Wool Standard (RWS) certified at Melbourne's auctions last week, with superfine Merino types rising 30c/kg week-on-week to see the Eastern Market Indicator close at 1369c/kg.

The Craig family, who manage a mixed operation at Harrow, topped the ultrafine Merino category selling five bales of RWS-accredited wether lamb fleece, at 13.9 micron and 85 millimetres, at 4409c/kg clean.

"The mistake we made when we went farming 21 years ago, we thought that was what wool was worth," Mr Craig said.

"Within a seven-year cycle, we quickly saw prices of sub 1000c/kg.

"That's the problem with the finer end with it's massive variability as it follows economic cycles, and drought can oversupply the market easily."

These fluctuating returns are why the Craig family run a diversified operation with their 48,000 dry sheep equivalent enterprise, divided with 60 per cent sheep and wool, 20pc cattle, and 20pc cropping.

Around 40pc of the ewe flock is joined to terminal rams for a June/July lambing, to enable lamb finishing, or the restocker market prior to dry summer conditions.

Ewes joined to Merino rams then lamb in August/September to ensure their peak lactation captures the abundant spring pasture growth.

"We're trying to focus on the whole sheep, although it's a problem when you like good-looking wools," he said.

"Through genetic selection we have evolved the type of sheep to maintain the fineness of our flock, while increasing fleece weights and importantly improving the fertility of our unmulesed sheep.

"Fertility is our Achilles' heel - this year we marked 98pc on ewes joined."

The Tuloona flock, which averages 16.8 micron and 4.7 kilograms fleece weight, is a part of the Merino Lifetime Productivity Trial that captures lifetime data across diverse environments and Merino types, funded by Australian Wool Innovation.

For the Craig family, the trial was to breed a "more balanced sheep".

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