GOOD news was all there was to be had at this year's Sheep's Back Sheep Easy 2016 field day held last Tuesday.
Sheep's Back hosted almost 200 participants at Muresk Institute in Northam for a day promoting innovation, simplicity and efficiency in the sheep and wool industry.
A range of demonstrations of the latest technology in the sheep game were on display throughout the day along with presentations of new research and ideas by respected industry professionals and keynote speeches by Peter Morris, PJ Morris Wools and Sheep's Back manager Andrew Ritchie, Icon Agriculture.
The messages from both keynote speakers were resoundingly positive.
Mr Morris said from his perspective the wool industry was in a great position.
"And it's very reassuring to see the average age here today must be below 50," Mr Morris said.
"Hopefully it's a sign there is a renewed interest in sheep and wool production."
Mr Morris said for the first time in 30 years wool supply was now equal to or less than demand - the opposite situation to grains and cotton globally, and could only mean good things for Australian wool growers.
"The current wool prices are very positive and wonderful to see from where I sit.
"Our industry understands that we need you as wool growers to be making money.
"What we do need is for prices to be consistent and less volatile. We don't want huge price fluctuations."
Mr Morris said now was the time for growers to be hedging their wool production.
"I think you should be talking to your brokers and advisors to assess your cost of production, where the price of wool has been historically and the potential risks going forward.
"I see a bright future ahead, but nobody knows if there will be another GFC or Brexit.
"If you are in a viable situation and you are profitable, maybe it's time to think about locking in profits while they are available."
Mr Morris also voiced some ideas for how wool producers might improve returns.
"Declare! Non mulesed, ceased and pain relief wool can get a premium so filling out the paperwork is definitely worth it."
Matching climate and geographical conditions to wool type and well classed wool are other avenues through which producers could see an improved return in Mr Morris' opinion.
Research and development is another area that should be a focus Mr Morris believes.
"You as growers should be asking AWI to spend your money on research and development that is helping you," Mr Morris said.
"That way you can continue to be competitive, it frees up your time and actually makes sheep and wool production more viable for you.
"I really do see a positive future for the wool industry in Australia."
Also seeing the positives was Sheep's Back manager Andrew Ritchie who encouraged producers to make the most of the good times in the industry.
He pointed out the benefits of focusing on condition scoring, feeding, worm, fly and weaner management and benchmarking which he described as 'low hanging fruit'.
"The low hanging fruit is ripe so make the most of the good times and grab those opportunities for improvement and efficiency," Mr Ritchie said.
Mr Ritchie advocated for enrolling in the Lifetime ewe management course, growing feed and focusing on weaner liveweights.
The Sheep's Back benchmarking data showed those who spend more money on their fertiliser spend less on their feed.
"Green feed is by far the cheapest and the highest quality source of food," Mr Ritchie said.
"And in a good year such as this we can afford to keep the weaners on mum for a bit longer without serious detriment for the ewe and achieve better survival rates."
Innovation and outsourcing solutions were also recommendations put forward by Mr Ritchie.
"ASBVs can help if you want to source a ram if you want to reduce the risk of flies by breeding a more plain bodied animal, or to reduce weaner mortality by improving fat," Mr Ritchie said.
"Do the research and do the maths for your particular situation because efficiency is worth something."
Mr Ritchie said the innovations on display and presented throughout the 'Sheep Easy' were examples of the sort of forward thinking producers should embrace going into the future.
Sheep's Back co-ordinator Ed Riggall said he was happy with the turn out and mood of the day.
"We took a bit of a risk to have a full day event and it's great to see such good numbers and genuine interest for all of the presentations and displays," Mr Riggall said.
"We just wanted to bring some exposure to all of the fantastic ideas and technology out there at the moment."
"Thanks must go to Australian Wool Innovation (AWI), Primaries and Bayer for their support of the event."
Primaries WA wool manager Greg Tilbrook said Primaries was really happy to be involved with the event.
"There's plenty of innovation and great ideas on show today to help producers improve their sheep and livestock enterprises," Mr Tilbrook said.
"We hope that everyone walks away with some new ideas to apply on farm."
The presentations were attended well throughout the entire day.
Dean Thomas from CSIRO had a crowd of attentive listeners for the presentation of CSIRO's GPS sheep tracking research.
The presentation was about looking at what opportunities there might be associated with on animal GPS sensors used in livestock management.
The research ties in with the emerging trends of technology and data usage in agriculture as tools for livestock enterprises.
Mr Thomas said there was a plethora of gadgets out there and farmers should be exploring what kind of uses they might have in livestock management.
"The hypothesis for this project was that there would be a viable business case for an on animal GPS based livestock monitoring system in mixed sheep and cropping enterprises," Mr Thomas said.
"We looked at what value there might be to a livestock business along with what data and summaries might be possible to be derived from this sort of operation."
Some of the opportunities for the use of GPS sheep tracking include monitoring of paddock utilisation, energy use, identification of sick/escaped animals, reproduction, animal behaviour and labour efficiency.
Making profits from crop grazing was highlighted by agriculture consultant and Gingin-based farmer Phil Barrett-Lennard.
He spoke about the Grain and Graze research projected that is funded by Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC).
The results so far show crop grazing that results in less than a 5 to 10 per cent yield penalty can be very profitable.
Mr Barrett-Lennard said while reactive crop grazing in response to a bad year could be useful, it did not make the most of the opportunities strategic crop grazing can provide.
"I'd like to see a lot more people move up into the strategic use of their crops for grazing," Mr Barrett-Lennard said.
He said when the most economically responsive stock class on the farm (such as twin bearing ewes and sale sheep) were put onto crops for grazing it could improve condition score and lead to increased stocking rates on farm.
"Cereal crops are rocket fuel for your sheep," Mr Barrett-Lennard said, "and while your sheep are on crop, they don't need supplementary feeding which means more money in your pocket in the long run."
The recommendations of the research are to sow as early as possible to allow for better crop biomass, as well as a longer grazing window and to graze lightly on paddocks that have little to no weed problems.
"If you've got a weedy paddock, that's the one not to graze because grazing opens up the canopy in the crop and allows the weeds more of a chance to thrive," Mr Barrett-Lennard said.
Full details and results of the trails can be found in the research and discussion papers section of the Grain and Graze website at www.grainandgraze3.com.au.
p Further information and presentations can be found on the Sheep's Back webpage.