THE importance of industry partnerships and market awareness were two key points emphasised by Elders national wool marketing manager Craig Turner at last week's Cranbrook wool day.
The series of seminars held at centres around Australia aimed to convey current market signals in the new post-stockpile era.
Mr Turner said it was a great time to be a wool producer. There was no stockpile and, importantly, there was no entity there to make another stockpile.
Australia was responsible for 80pc of world wool production and as a world leader, it had to rely on itself for product development.
From his experience in early stage processing, he said companies such as Parkland, where he had worked in the UK, had spent up to 15pc on research and development to differentiate with new products to keep ahead of the market.
Knowing the amount of investment made by processors, he was concerned that Australian Wool Innovation Ltd was talking about eventually reducing the 2pc wool tax to zero in the future.
With wool making up a small percentage of the apparel fibre market, it was now regarded as a fashion fibre and as such it was subject to cycles of fashion.
"It (fashion) may seem trivial but it impacts on everyone in the production and processing
industries," Mr Turner said. "If you are not aware of what is happening commercially, you can come unstuck".
In encouraging producers to do their market research, he told the audience to keep up with what's happening "because sometimes the people we rely on don't".
Mr Turner predicted partnerships and links would appear between producers and processors more and more to guarantee supply.
He also predicted electronic selling would move along more quickly and this had been demonstrated during the break before the start of the new wool selling season.
Exporters that were aware the stockpile had been sold were buying 3-4000 bales a week through the National Wool Exchange Desk during the break and were clearly concerned about supply.
The same concern had prompted Japanese wool processor Itochu to appoint a country wool broker.
Elders had also opened a new wool broking division Premier Wool Services (PWS) for specialist wools in a form that gave clients a sense of product ownership.
Lines of 17.5-18 micron elite wools had been sourced through PWS for a new locally made knitwear range that was targeting markets in the UK and Australia.
The range had been developed by textile designer Neville Quist and competed directly against New Zealand knitwear company Smedley at the top end of the market and despite a price of around $30 a kilogram clean for the raw wool, the garments could be supplied to the customer considerably cheaper than comparable NZ-made garments.
Garments with the Quist label would sell for about $200 an item in Harrods and Harvey Nicholls in London, when they were released in October.
The same range would be available in Australian stores with a Saville Row label in David Jones and Henry Bucks, and it was expected 60,000 pieces would be sold in the next 18 months.
It was essential producers were aware of the different specifications demanded by individual processors and class their wools to suit different markets.
He said there were different wool types for different markets and most flocks had several types of wools for different jobs, for example elite wools and traditional superfine wools.
"If you want to maximise your returns then don't mix them," Mr Turner said.
Although elite wools were demanded by one sector of the market, the bigger, shiftier, sound wools were still in demand because they could create a different effect at the finished stage.
He repeated previous market advice for under 19 micron wools saying they were out of favour because the three-year fashion cycle had run its course. The new trend for 2003 fashions was for 21-22 micron wool.
"Fashion starts at 22 microns and finer," Mr Turner said. "Higher micron wool is a commodity fibre that, based on past history, becomes fashionable only once in about every 10 years".
He had advice for sheep breeders contemplating reducing micron.
"There is no point in changing your pathway if it is not going to make you more money/hectare," he said.
"Make you micron choice and then concentrate on quality and productivity. Wool in the 19 and 21 micron range give the most options to processors; they can be spun fine or coarse and will always be at some point of the fashion cycle".
Elders' elite wool program was about spinning better wool. It was not a fad nor was it the only way to improve wool quality.
The program had sold 700t of elite and semi-elite wool to eight countries and the biggest seller had been 16.5-21.5 micron elite wool with 20.5 semi-elite wool also in strong demand.
With ewe prices at such a high level, the best option for wool quality improvement had to come from the ram's side.
"Study measurements, particularly CV and coarse edge, and pay a little more to get better rams," he said. "If you blow it you will reap the rewards for years to come. If you buy elite wool rams make sure it runs truly through the entire fleece".
Elders Ltd was intending to hold an elite wool ram sale at Castlemaine where a selected and inspected offering would be sold in conjunction with the company's elite fleece competition in November.