TEN WA woolgrowers got a glimpse of life in China on an eight-day tour of the country hosted by Primaries of WA this month.
Primaries of WA general manager Andrew Lindsay, who led the tour group with fellow Primaries representative Mark Boxall, said the aim was to give the woolgrowers some understanding of life in general in China, as well as an insight into China's wool industry, Australia's largest by far greasy wool customer.
"We wanted to show them a bit more of China and how the government is attempting to feed such a massive population, than just the wool industry," Mr Lindsay said.
"They were very interested and got a real understanding of China but because they were all woolgrowers, the visits to the Nanjing wool market and to Sunshine Group - the world's largest vertically integrated wool processor and manufacturer - and Tianyu Wool - the world's largest wool top maker - had a special interest for them.
"It's fair to say these visits were something of an eye-opener for the wool growers.
"They were told that only about 30 per cent of China's wool processing and fabric or garment production is now for export out - that is, 70pc of it is for domestic consumption.
"It became obvious to them that even a very small increase (in wool industry output) in China would have a very significant impact on the wool industry and demand for wool back in Australia because of the scale of things in China.
"One of the interesting things the tour group learned during the visit to Sunshine Group was that the 2011 wool price spike in Australia was due to an order for new military uniforms being placed with Sunshine which had the contract.
"The wool market has moved on since then and fashion trends, innovation and personal purchases by a rising middle-class with a disposable income have been the more recent market drivers.
"There was some discussion about the demand for wool into the future and about sustainability and provenance.
"Mulesing was also discussed and the Chinese processors stressed to our tour group the importance now placed on woolgrowers completing the National Wool Declaration.
"The Chinese wanted to know from our growers why, despite very good prices being paid for greasy wool, sheep numbers in Australia continue to decline."
Apart from the visits to the Nanjing wool market and Sunshine and Tianyu wool processors, all in Jiangsu Province in eastern China near Shanghai, the tour group also visited Changchun in the north to see a sheep cross-breeding project.
"In winter there it gets down to minus 20-30 degrees (Celsius) so they are breeding native sheep - to hopefully provide high birth rate and hardiness qualities - with Dorpers to lift meat quality and production," Mr Lindsay said.
"We also visited a local university in Xian in central China to look at a beef cattle project aiming to improve their meat product and a project to breed more goats for milk production."
Along the way the WA woolgrowers also visited the tourist sites of the Wild Goose Pagoda dating from 652 and the Terracotta Army.
Mt Lindsay said the tour finished last week with two days of shopping and sightseeing in Shanghai.
It was the second annual tour of China led by Primaries of WA for its woolgrower clients.