WOOL test and wool auction statistics tell the tale of a record-breaking 2016-17 season just concluded in WA.
Australian Wool Testing Authority (ATWA) data released Monday showed the number of bales tested in WA jumped 10.9 per cent to 433,034 in the year to June 30 compared to the previous season, reversing a long-term decline.
The WA jump in number of bales tested compared to increases of just 3.5pc and 2.7pc in Victoria and New South Wales, the two States producing more Merino wool than WA.
A national bale numbers increase of 4.9pc was statistically skewed by Queensland’s much smaller wool industry bouncing back from drought, but still demonstrated how WA’s wool industry outperformed the rest of Australia in 2016-17.
Drilling deeper into ATWA statistics confirms just how good a season it was for WA woolgrowers.
Average yield – the amount of wool determined by ATWA to be available for processing after greasy wool is cleaned – rose by 1.5pc to 64.1pc for fleece and 61.4pc for cardings.
The national average yield increase was less than half that in WA.
Vegetable matter in WA wool declined on average by 0.3pc but increased by the same amount nationally, the average staple length of WA wool increased by 1.6 millimetres – 1mm more than the national average – to 89mm and the average diameter of WA wool increased by 0.3 of a micron to 20.1, while the national average remained static.
The season provided green feed in many areas of the State right through to March and was reflected by a 3.1pc drop in mid-break wool, with 45.3pc of WA’s clip tested by ATWA as mid-break – the lowest level in Australia last season.
That statistic is particularly important to wool processors.
If wool fibre breaks in the middle under tension the processor is left with two unusable short lengths, but if it breaks near the base or tip, the longer piece in the middle can be used.
WA’s average hauteur – fibre strength measurement – increased by 2.4N/kt to 73.6N/kt - the strongest wool in Australia last season.
In simple terms, the AWTA statistics mean WA Merinos on average produced thicker, cleaner, stronger, longer and more usable wool than Eastern States’ counterparts in the season just gone, and they also produced more of it than they have in many years.
There was also more good news from ATWA on Monday for woolgrowers.
It announced wool testing fees will remain unchanged for the 2017-18 selling season with the cost of testing a typical seven-bale lot, including a staple length and strength test, to remain at $74.20 excluding GST.
The exceptional wool season was also reflected in Australian Wool Exchange (AWEX) statistics on price and volumes at the Western Wool Centre (WWC).
AWEX statistics show 30,328 more bales, or an increase of 8.4pc, were offered at the WWC in the season just gone, taking the total for the season to 390,488.
The increase in bale numbers offered at Australia’s biggest wool selling centre, Melbourne, was 3.4pc and 4.8pc in Sydney.
Of the total bales offered at the WWC last season 89pc sold, a marginal increase over the previous season and closing in on the 92 and 93pc sales ratios of Melbourne and Sydney centres.
Prices were exceptionally strong throughout the year with the Western Indicator (WI) and 20-22 micron broader fleece wool setting all-time records on June 15, the third last WWC auction day of the season.
On May 4 it was the turn of 19 and 19.5 micron wools to set new record prices at the WWC and they followed 18 and 18.5 micron wools setting record highs on March 22.
Last Thursday’s season-closing prices across the 18-20 micron span and for Merino cardings only retreated slightly from their best ever.
AWEX statistic show they will start the new season this week with three-year price percentiles above 95pc and 21 and 22 micron wool with price percentiles above 85pc.
The WI finished the season at 1552 cents per kilogram clean, down 15c for the last week from its all-time record, and 159c better than where it started the season 12 months ago.
Elders Wool manager Danny Burkett said the 2016-17 season had offered “the best selection (of wools) across the 12 months that I’ve ever seen in my years in the game”.
“The quality of the product has been outstanding and that has been reflected in the prices achieved,” Mr Burkett said.
“We’ve (WWC prices) set new benchmarks and then we’ve continued trading at just below them.
“That’s given everyone the opportunity to participate.
“An example is (the price of) 21 micron wool.
“It has been up to the 1500 (cents per kilogram clean) barrier five times in the past five years.
“Last season it smashed through the 1500c barrier and that’s a good sign.”
Mr Burkett said the “excellent” seasonal conditions had not only produced better wool and better prices, but given woolgrowers a chance and a reason to increase flock numbers.
Williams wool grower Robert Rose who said his experience of last season supported the story told by the statistics - more thicker, stronger, longer wool and sold for great prices.
“It was one of the best seasons we’ve had,” Mr Rose said.
“We split shear in spring and autumn.
“In spring the market was really firm and we got a really good price for our wool.
“It had softened a bit by autumn so the prices then weren’t as good, but compared to previous seasons they were still pretty good.”
With 20 millimetres of rain on the farm last weekend, after 40mm over the previous week to end a five-week dry spell, and lambing just starting with “lots of twins scanned”, the 2017-18 season was also off to a good start, he said.
Greg Horne, Modiano Australia’s buyer at the WWC, said the exceptional WA season had provided more of the better specification wools sought by Modiano and other European processors.
“In general, I’d say last season produced more wool that was very suitable for us,” Mr Horne said.
“We bought more skirtings and, in fits and starts, more fleece wool, but (quality of) that was erratic.
“Basically, if more growers had declared their DMFR (Dark and Medullated Fibre Risk, a voluntary six-point rating code on the National Wool Declaration) properly, I would have bought more fleece.
“I walked past lots of lovely fleece wool (on show floors) that wasn’t DMFR declared so I wasn’t prepared to take the risk buying it for our wool tops.
“I’d encourage growers who crutch their sheep to let me know – that’s basically what the DMFR declaration, if it’s filled in, is telling me,” he said.