THE Sheep Alliance of WA has unveiled its draft plan to drive sustainable growth in the sheep industry with a new research, development and extension incubation hub.
Latest Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates put WA's 2015/16 sheep flock at just 13.8 million head.
These preliminary figures that one likely to change later in the year when data is finalised, however the future of the WA sheep industry looks grim.
The estimated flock size in 2018/19 could range from 11.95m, under a marking rate of 90 per cent and a turn-off of 5.86m, to 15.04m under a marking rate of 95pc and a total turn-off of 5.62m if nothing is done to drive WA's sheep business.
The alliance, a not-for-profit incorporated association, was formed last July to prepare a whole-of-supply chain response to the declining WA sheep population.
It unveiled the draft plan to almost 50 industry representatives on Friday.
The plan identified that RD&E was not being optimised in the industry.
Alliance chairman Craig Heggaton said they had been working on the draft plan for about eight months.
"We presented (our plan) to members today, the story of sheep RD&E in WA and in doing so, drew attention that there has been a flaw in the critical design phase of RD&E projects," Dr Heggaton said.
"We do our priority setting well, as its relatively easy to identify the theme areas that need addressing, but the much more difficult task lies in designing and rigorously testing with the market place, truly effective research and extension programs that will engage producers and demonstrate unequivocally the business case for adopting best-practice management systems."
The plan centres on the proposal to address the gap and recommended an independent entity be formed to work in the RD&E space.
"We maintain that a small team of technically proficient people, who have the capacity to collaborate with the RD&E community and the sheep supply chain stakeholders, whose primary responsibility is rigorous project design, will significantly increase the calibre of work delivered and the likelihood of greater adoption rates," he said.
Analysis identified barriers to the State's quest for "transformational change" and built a case for action on what it determines as a market failure that of independent, technical project design.
"For too long, the task of project design has been compromised by a primary need from the project authors to retain staff, rather than design projects in consultation with the full supply chain, in order to appeal to the market place," he said.
"We propose this correction to the RD&E pathway and with it, suggest we will be much better placed to address the opportunity for adopting the necessary systems to drive productivity gains."
Dr Heggaton, who is also the WA Meat Marketing Co-operative Limited chairman, said there were many reasons behind the decline in sheep population and most of them were beyond its scope to address, so the board resolved to concentrate only on strategies it could have some influence over.
"Market forces, commercial contracts and the well-documented reality that sheep incur a higher labour cost than grain and have not enjoyed the technology benefits associated with the grains industry, are all things we must accept to a degree and work with."
Sheep Alliance of WA executive officer Esther Jones said 75 sheep-related RD&E projects conducted last year in WA, with an estimated total value of $30 million but with a limited increase in productivity.
The alliance said a hub structure would communicate with all stakeholders and industry groups, collaborate, design and provide a single coordinating contact point for sheep projects, which would reduce duplication and wastage of resources.
"It's not about more dollars, its about doing more with the same or even less and enhancing the ability to win funds and do meaningful things with them," Ms Jones said.
The draft proposal is designed to iron out the kinks in the RD&E pathway.
The proposal would see an incubation hub design, review, consult and rigourously test project proposals for RD&E.
These would be implemented into industry, rather than using the current structure where project development is conducted in a six-week period, creating a "sub-optimal pathway" for RD&E.
WAFarmers executive policy officer Kim Haywood backed the plan.
But hoped it wasn't too late to jump-start the sheep industry.
"It has taken them a long time to get to this point," she said.
"I am worried we are five years too late.
"WAFarmers supports the concept, as it is similar to the WAFarmers Livestock Institute proposal which we presented 12 months ago.
"We are pleased they have come to this conclusion and we support the hub concept, but we are running out of time."
Ms Haywood said she had hoped to see more of a business case, with time parameters and a budget and how the hub structure would operate to support grower groups.
"It has merit, but we need to address how we will stop the duplication and wastage, how will the hub function, its targets and objectives and also how it would be funded," she said.
"We still have a long way to go and we still have the issue of wild dogs, as we have lost three quarters of the WA flock due to the wild dogs.
"We need to make sheep meat and wool profitable again."
The Sheep Alliance aims to further refine the plan, based on industry and stakeholder feedback by March.
It hopes to produce a final plan by mid-2017.
Grower groups at the forum on Friday posed questions about how they would fit into the new structure, funding and project concept confidentiality.
Dr Heggaton said the alliance would continue to work and collaborate with all industry and stakeholders in refining the plan.
Primaries of WA general manager and Sheep Alliance of WA board member Andrew Lindsay said the structure and the direction of the Alliance was very supported.
"There were no negative comments, everyone was very supportive of the general direction," Mr Lindsay said.
He said there were a few people who wanted to get into the fine details.
"Our job on Friday was to put forward the vision for the WA sheep industry, which was generally accepted and now we will start to work around that detail."
Mr Lindsay said it was encouraging to see many sheep industry members come together to provide input and feedback on the industry's future.
Pastoralists and Graziers Association policy officer Tom Lamond said the PGA supported the draft plan.
"It was a well thought-out proposal," Mr Lamond said.
"There are probably a few aspects that really need to be nailed down before it comes to fruition.
"I think the key takeaway was the concept was broadly supported."
The Sheep Alliance of WA is funded by Royalties for Regions through the Sheep Industry Business Innovation project.