Mixed emotions for wool industry in 2015

03 Jan, 2016 01:00 AM
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RENOWNED shearer Kevin Gellatly being selected as WA's second inductee into The Australian Shearers' Hall of Fame was some good news for the local wool industry to start 2015.

Known to both Gascoyne pastoralists and Perth Hills hobby farmers, Mr Gellatly, 67, of Forrestfield, has given back to his industry by training many of its shearers.

He learned his trade on northern Wheatbelt farms where he grew up and perfected his technique as a young man shearing more than 200 a day on the famed north-west run, travelling north on trucks and living away with shearing teams for months at a time.

A modest man, the former shearing contractor, show-circuit master shearer, trouble-shooter for equipment manufacturer Heiniger, sought-after alpaca shearer and shearing teacher said he was "very humbled" by the honour.

At Easter he joined blade specialist Ron Niven as WA's representatives on the honour roll of 33.

The first sale of 2015 at the Western Wool Centre (WWC) in Bibra Lake saw prices retreat from a pre-Christmas high four weeks earlier, but at 1094 cents per kilogram clean, the Western Indicator started the year 8c better than the average for the previous 12 months.

There were mixed emotions when John Clarke, 71, his wife Lyn and son Andrew of Brookdale Merinos, Arthur River, attended the WWC in February to watch their last clip auctioned.

Stud manager Paul Lloyd and shearing contractor Eddie McEllister joined them as guests of Elders which had sold every Clarke clip since the first in 1961.

"It's a sad occasion, being the last sale, but we all have to move on," Mr Clarke said.

Throughout February and March the Western Indicator continued to fluctuate over a range of about 15c/kg, but prices were still above the 12-month average.

The 2015 Make Smoking History Wagin Woolorama in March had something for everyone, including controversy at the official opening by former Wagin boy, now WA Transport Minister Dean Nalder.

As Mr Nalder stood to speak, WAFarmers president Dale Park and Wheatbelt Railway Retention Alliance (WRRA) members Kim Haywood and Kallum Blake in the audience unrolled a banner supporting re-opening of Tier 3 grain rail lines.

Crowd numbers built to about 19,000 over the two days with perfect weather and a Saturday night rodeo, in which the Australian Rodeo Queen crown was handed over for the first time, helping attendances.

Williams farmer Robert Rose, 30, and his lawyer Ross Williamson warned against talking to Department of Agriculture and Food (DAFWA) inspectors after an animal welfare case was thrown out of Narrogin Magistrates Court.

DAFWA's livestock compliance unit took 22 months to charge Mr Rose with failing to put down or seek veterinary help for a sheep with a broken leg that he treated himself by binding with tape.

Magistrate Tania Watt ruled there was no case to answer and acquitted Mr Rose when DAFWA failed to prove immobilising the broken leg with tape was any less effective than veterinary treatment.

March ended in furore when brokers at the WWC discovered a WAFarmers' submission to a wool selling system review commissioned by Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) had recommended the centre be closed in favour of a centralised national selling centre.

A deputation of brokers was quickly organised.

Subsequent WAFarmers' submissions, while still calling for changes, recognised the significance of the WWC, particularly in relation to Australia's major wool customer China, and argued for it to be retained.

Controversy continued into April when Jona Weinhofen, guitarist and singer for heavy-metal band I Killed The Prom Queen, appeared in a People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals video and advertisements clutching a fake lamb supposedly bloodied after shearing.

Incensed, WAFarmers launched a crowd-funding campaign and raised $5500 to invite Adelaide resident Mr Weinhofen to WA to attend a shearing school.

Mr Weinhofen declined the invitation.

"He's quite prepared to cut our (farmers') incomes by campaigning against wool, but he doesn't want to lose any of his own income over it," said WAFarmers president Dale Park.

Wool sales rebounded after Easter at the WWC and surged to the best prices for more than a year, starting an unbroken six-week run.

Red hot wool prices remained the story during May and June.

In the first week in May the Western Indicator jumped 62c/kg on the Wednesday and climbed a further 15c on the Thursday as prices hit levels not seen since the record 2011-12 year.

After a small correction the second week, prices continued to surge.

Australian Wool Exchange (AWEX) reported high prices had cleaned out wool stores, with the amount of wool offered nationally in May up 22 per cent compared to the same period the previous year.

The run continued into June and on the second last sale day of the financial year there were shouts of "gorilla" at the WWC as buyers scrambled to secure what wool they could.

The slang term for 1000 - the WWC works in cents per kilogram greasy wool, so buyers were bidding $10 - was a frequent call and auctioneers struggled to get tongues around four figures.

In a market summary AWEX described the gains across all micron sizes as "amazing".

The Western Indicator finished week 50 at a new high of 1428c/kg smashing the previous June 2011 record of 1415c/kg.

Also in June, Elders presented its 2014-15 Supreme Clip of Sale awards to woolgrowers and classers at a gala evening, with speaker Agriculture and Food Minister Ken Baston reminding guests he was one of them.

"I've still got my owner/classer stencil," he told the gathering.

In July the major recommendation of a wool selling systems review discussion paper questioned the reliance on open-cry auctions in Perth, Sydney and Melbourne to sell 90pc of Australia's wool clip.

It advocated electronic selling and the creation of a Wool Exchange Portal to link buyers with sellers.

The report was widely dismissed by WA brokers who pointed out electronic selling already existed and accounted for less than 10pc of the market.

Long-standing wool manager at Primaries Tim Chapman, 63, who was also chief wool judge at the Perth Royal Show for the past five years, stepped aside and handed the reins to Greg Tilbrook.

An AWEX forum for wool classers and woolgrowers at Northam was told women's fashion wear would continue to drive demand for Australian wool.

Leading wool economist Chris Wilcox and Peter Scanlan Wools buyer Steve Noa said woollen women's jackets were the "next big thing" in China.

Brokers breathed a sigh of relief when the Western wool market found a floor before a three-week recess after the indicator dropped 177c from its June record.

There were some new faces amongst buyers at the WWC in August with Perry Roberts fronting for new trader Global Wool Exports and Lempriere Australia's trading division manager Evan Croake moving to Perth.

Both immediately made their presence felt, with the increased competition pushing the Western Indicator back up to 1352c/kg.

Strong demand continued through September with firm prices for better specification wools, but easing for spring wool with higher mid-break and lower strength.

The 2015 wool poll was launched giving growers a chance to vote on what the levy should be and AWI pointed out every dollar invested in it over the past three years had returned $2.90 to woolgrowers.

With wool prices running well above their 12-month average, there was plenty of interest during the ram sales season.

At the Lefroy family's 65th annual ram sale on Cranmore Park, Walebing, Poll Merino rams attracted a price premium of up to $900 over Merino rams.

The top Cranmore ram, a Poll Merino, sold for $2800, easily surpassing the previous year's top of $2000 for a Merino.

Prices at the WWC remained above average but continued to fluctuate through October and November at the WWC as concerns about quality and quantity arose.

AWEX figures at the end of October showed the number of bales offered for auction at the WWC so far for the season were down almost 9pc on the previous season.

There were also concerns about the number of weeks when smaller offerings failed to trigger a second sale day at the WWC, often leaving the western market missing out on Thursday price rises at Melbourne and Sydney sales.

At the AWI annual meeting in November it was announced the wool levy would remain at 2pc.

Chief executive Stuart McCullough said of the 51pc of eligible voters who voted, 68pc favoured a levy of 2pc or more, while 32pc voted for the less than 2pc options.

November will be remembered for the lightning-sparked bushfire that destroyed livestock and crops on properties north of Esperance and claimed four lives at Scaddan.

David Vandenberghe runs Wattledale Fine Merino Stud at Scaddan, which was started by his parents in 1963, and lost 700 of his Wattledale ewes and a further 200 Centre Plus stud ewes from a genetic line he bought at a dispersal sale last year.

"I've seen kangaroos dead standing up, emus with no feathers left, melted aluminium signs, leaves on trees frozen sideways, it's like a nuclear bomb zone," Mr Vandenberghe said.

In response to broker concerns, an extraordinary meeting of the National Auction Selling Committee in December approved a series of changes that will see mostly two-day sales at the WWC from the first week back in 2016.

Only one auction room will operate from an earlier start time of 10.30am, with oddments and pieces sold first, followed by fleece.

Mostly two-day sales triggered by moving to one selling room will bring the WWC more into line with Melbourne and Sydney wool sales.

Prices at the WWC put on a spurt to finish the year, with the Western Index ending the last day of trading up 21c at 1320c/kg, a net increase of 226c compared to the first day of the calendar year.

Price increases across 18-22 microns ranged from 15c-26c with the finer micron wools about 125c above their average price for the year and the broader microns about 98c above average.

FarmWeekly

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