WHAT is happening in the Australian Merino and wool industry? And why have flock numbers declined?
These were some of the questions constantly asked of World Federation of Merino Breeders president Glen Keamy when he visited New Zealand and South America recently.
During November Mr Keamy spent a month in New Zealand, Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina, visiting and speaking to Merino breeders as part of his role.
Mr Keamy said they were all interested to know what was happening in the Australian industry.
"Whether it was to do with prices in the Australian Merino wool and sheep industry or why flock numbers have declined in Australia," Mr Keamy said.
"They really wanted to know where Australia saw the future of the wool industry."
Mr Keamy said he answered the questions by saying there has been a positive attitude change due to the optimism in improved wool prices and the huge demand for sheep meat in the future, which will ensure the future of the Merino industry.
Mr Keamy's first stop on the trip was New Zealand, where he attended the Christchurch Royal Show.
Mr Keamy said the Merinos displayed had excellent wool quality and were very impressive.
New Zealand has an estimated 35 million sheep, which includes 2.5m Merinos in the South Island.
From New Zealand Mr Keamy went on to South America, with his first stop being Uruguay, where he visited 12 properties in four days.
Mr Keamy said after talking with various groups in Uruguay and Argentina, it appears they are very meticulous with their breeding and pedigreeing.
"They are very keen on Australian Merino genetics," Mr Keamy said.
"Both countries use us as a benchmark for their Merino prices."
There are 8.7m sheep in Uruguay, of which 33 per cent are Merino.
Mr Keamy said the Uruguay Merinos appear to be good sheep with good constitution and average 19.5 microns in a 1000mm rainfall country.
One of the properties Mr Keamy visited in Uruguay was Estancia Las Rosas, which is owned by Princess Laeticia D'Aremberg and has a considerable infusion of Australian genetics in its flock, including genetics from The Grange.
Mr Keamy said along with running a Merino stud they also run a Poll Dorset stud, beef cattle and horse studs and a large dairy operation.
Also while in Uruguay Mr Keamy met with groups from the Brazilian Merino Breeders and Brazilian Sheepbreeders Association, and gave an overview of the wool and sheep industry in Australia to various farming groups and farmers.
Mr Keamy said like Australian breeders, South American breeders are tending towards more polled animals and plainer bodies.
"The South American Merino breeders were interested in the Wool Poll vote held in November and were pleased with the result," Mr Keamy said.
"They were pleased to hear Australia will continue to lead the way with wool promotion."
Mr Keamy said the South Americans also recognise the biggest challenge in the future will be the demand for sheepmeat and cattle products as their population grows.
After Uruguay it was on to Argentina where he first travelled from Trelew to Comodora Rivadvia in the Patagonian region, and visited the Los Mantiliales property where he inspected young sires carrying Barloo and Greenfields genetics.
"They were impressive sheep and were being prepared for their main show in February," Mr Keamy said.
Los Mantiliales is a 50,000ha property and runs 16,000 Merinos and cattle.
Mr Keamy said the flock averages a 4.5kg cut and they sell 1300 rams a year.
Another visit of interest by Mr Keamy was to the Gonzalo family's Rio Pico property near Esquel near the Andes.
Three of the Gonzalo family have been on exchange to WA through the Stud Merino Breeders Association of WA.
Mr Keamy said the Gonzalos run 20,000 sheep, sell 450 rams and 60-70 Hereford bulls a year.
"They average 19.5 microns and a 5kg cut," Mr Keamy said.
"There lambing percentage is between 68-70pc but this depends on the weather at lambing."
Another property visited by Mr Keamy using Australian genetics was Arroya Verde, which is 30,000ha in size.
When Mr Keamy visited the operation they were shearing 12-month-old rams lambs for the first time.
"They have a different shed set," Mr Keamy said.
"The shearers don't have to go in to catching pens and turn sheep over, instead the sheep are ran up an elevated race and then turned out on to the board by the shearer."
Another interesting visit in Argentina for Mr Keamy was to the Leleque ram sale.
Leleque is a 200,000ha operation, owned by the Benetton family between Esquel and Bariloche near the Andes.
At Leleque the operation runs 100,000 Merinos and 8000 cattle, with the Merinos averaging 19.5 microns and a 5kg cut.
The Benetton family runs a total of 250,000 sheep over their various Argentine properties.
At the ram sale the stud offered and sold 620 flock rams for a $130 average, 1200 ewe hoggets at an average of $50 and 15 stud rams at an average of $1200.
Two of the stud rams offered by the stud were by Angenup rams.
However the stud rams offered at the sale are not the stud's top draft.
Its top draft are prepared, shown and sold at the three main show and sales in the country.
Argentina has 14m sheep, of which 7m are Merinos.
Mr Keamy said the Argentine flock averages 4.5kg cut and 21 microns.
"There was definitely a notable difference in their sheep since I last visited seven years ago," Mr Keamy said.
"They are bigger, have better wools, better conformation and lower micron.
"The preparation of their show and sale sheep is as good as you would see."
The major reason for Mr Keamy's trip was to promote next year's World Merino Conference, which will be at Rambouillet in France in May.
Mr Keamy said there appeared to be a lot of interest from the places he visited in regards to next year's conference.
Mr Keamy said the conference is shaping up well and the World Federation of Merino Breeders just welcomed Russia as a new member, which follows on from Lesotho joining the association in September.
"I am also confident Brazil will join and optimistic about the Province of Xinjiang in China also joining the federation, while Romania has given an indication it wishes to become a member," Mr Keamy said.
Current members of the association include Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina, France, Hungry, Spain, Uruguay and the United States.