A GROUP of Western Australian woolgrowers has just returned from a Primaries-organised study tour to China.
The group had the chance to visit rural and remote China to see Chinese farming systems at work, as well as visiting research facilities, wool processing factories and universities, in the first tour of it’s kind organised by Primaries for its wool growing clients.
Primaries wool manager Greg Tilbrook headed up the group of 15 men and women who signed up to see first-hand what the Chinese agricultural and RD&E sectors look like.
Mr Tilbrook said the tour was an eye-opening experience.
“It was a fantastic opportunity for those who attended to get out into rural China and see what is happening there,” Mr Tilbrook said.
“I’d been to China before but I hadn’t done the farm side, I’d been to the processors and the scours but I hadn’t toured farming country there, so it was amazing to see the scale of production over there and the amount of research they are doing in the agricultural space.
“It was a very fascinating trip.”
Producers in the tour group were from areas such as Lake King, Kendenup, Manjimup and Moora.
“We had the full spread of ages, farming areas, flock sizes and business structures in the group which made for some really interesting discussions around the dinner table after a full day of seeing how the Chinese operate,” Mr Tilbrook said.
The itinerary included stopovers in Shanghai, Changchun, Xi An and Nanjing.
“One of the most fascinating parts of the trip was the two-hour drive through farm land, which is owned by the Chinese government or family co-operatives and is largely used for corn production to feed livestock,” he said.
“It’s broadacre farming but with manual labour – it was really fascinating to see.”
The first farm the group visited had 3500 shedded sheep with 35 staff looking after them.
“We managed to see some Prime SAMM-Merino production and Dorpers as well, all of which were housed and fed,” Mr Tilbrook said.
“What we saw was meat production on a massive scale.
“There is so much demand for meat protein in China and that was the real eye-opener for me.
“Basically they’ve taken the sheep off the grasslands and housed them all because the pastures aren’t productive enough to feed the population – it’s all intensive farming but there is no big machinery at all.
“If I wanted to sum up their farming systems I would say it is all about protein production, minimal wastage and maximising return on land which is actually no different to what we already do in Australia, they’re just doing it on a bigger scale with a lot of manual labour.”
During the trip the group toured universities and labs, as well as hearing presentations on research, technology and markets in China.
“In Xi An we heard a presentation on gene technology which was really fascinating,” Mr Tilbrook said.
“We got a brief overview of the technologies the Chinese are using to increase their production in both plants and livestock.
“The university we visited had a research project looking at milk production in goats which they were able to significantly improve through gene technology.
“Goat milk is a product in high demand because of its nutritional value to human babies and highly popular in China so that was fascinating to see.”
The group also toured the Nanjing wool market for a presentation on current market conditions.
“One of the things to note from that presentation was wool prices are starting to become an issue, but supply is the bigger issue for them and they were really pushing for information about our spring clip,” Mr Tilbrook said.
“Demand for our wool is definitely still there.”
Mr Tilbrook said seeing Chinese farming up close was a highlight.
“Obviously providing our growers the chance to see what happens to their wool post auction was the main highlight for me,” he said.
“But equally as important for me was getting into the back blocks and seeing what the Chinese are doing with the limited amount of grazing land available to them.”
Mr Tilbrook said he hoped the growers who attended the tour enjoyed their experience in China.
Watheroo-based woolgrower Caroline House was one of the producers on the tour and said it was an informative and interesting trip.
“It was fantastic to be able to see for ourselves what happens next to our wool once it’s sold,” Ms House said.
“The mills we toured were really fascinating and to see the scale they operate at was amazing.
“As a producer I think it’s important to know what happens end to end and to get feedback from them about what sort of characteristics they want in the wool they buy.”
Ms House said it was clear the demand for quality and quantity of Australian wool was still strong.
“Australian wool has a reputation for providing an excellent product and they want lots of it,” she said.
“As a woolgrower, it was really great to be hearing that the demand for our product remains strong.”
On the back of positive feedback from the trip, Primaries may consider more woolgrower tours to China in the future, depending on interest and opportunity.