REFINEMENTS to cervical artificial insemination techniques in sheep will allow commercial woolgrowers access to top soft rolling skin genetics at greatly reduced costs. This was the good news for SRS woolgrowers at the first of a series of workshops that started in WA last week, organised by Strath-Haddon and hosted by John and Di Pickford, Woodanilling. The SRS Company Pty Ltd's Jim Watts told the gathering that developments in semen collection, processing and storage, combined with more refined cervical insemination methods, resulted in conception rates of about 70 per cent using frozen semen making AI a practical tool for commercial woolgrowers. He said South Australian station owner Myles Cockington had refined AI techniques and had shown commercial woolgrowers could do big numbers themselves under rangeland conditions. The key to advances in collection methods, treatment and storage by NSW veterinarian Peter Howe was to collect semen during the autumn equinox when Merino rams were at peak fertility. Dr Watts said this fully potentiated sperm produced in the autumn was nature's way of ensuring lambs were dropped during the time when the most spring feed was available. Conversely, semen collected in the spring was of inferior quality, resulting in higher embryonic and foetal deaths and poor quality and defective lambs. The timing of foetal deaths was often between day 50 and day 100, leaving producers with dry ewes even though they had been pregnancy tested as positive. As a result, studs and AI centres were blamed for poor standards. As part of the SRS Company's quality assurance program, it was offering fully potentiated semen. The semen collection developments and AI technique will be the topic of a SRS workshop to be held in WA in November. Dr Watts said, as a result of the advances, the company was finalising 30-40 sires from leading SRS studs across Australia for a catalogue to be published soon. Semen would be available to commercial woolgrowers for $10-$15 a dose on the understanding they would not be producing rams. The same genetics would be available to stud breeders for $40-$50. He said, with the demand for SRS wools from processors, it was important to accelerate the number of SRS-type sheep to improve the ewe base. Itochu western region manager Stephen Bryce said his company had introduced SRS wool into Japan in 1997, where it was trialed in six mills with positive processing results. Trials now were being carried out in other countries and the company had formed an alliance with The SRS Company to gain a more consistent supply to promote worldwide. The company had a closer contact with growers to obtain wool and was committed to giving feedback on processing performance. Mr Bryce said Itochu had consistent orders for 18.5-20.5 micron wool and he said, if it came up well in the (display) boxes, then there would naturally be more competition on SRS lines, although Itochu would not necessarily pay a premium. He advised woolgrowers to notify Primaries if they were consigning SRS wool lines to auction but SRS wools "stand out and hit you in the face". Dr Watts said: "There is no reason. with the technical advances. why we (woolgrowers) can't go ahead with the Merino and make a lot of money out of it." pMore reports next week.