AFTER a record breaking year in 2018, ram sales across Western Australia saw a modest correction this year, but there remained plenty of positives for stud breeders to retain optimism for their industry.
While the overall figures for the year were back across the board, stud breeders still recorded their second best season on record when it came to prices.
The season average across all breeds this year finished at $1479 and the gross topped $21.78 million.
A lack of winter rain across the majority of the State, on the back of average winter rains last year and a quick finish to the season, had producers worried about water and feed supplies.
When ram sales got under way growers still had plenty of reasons to bid-up given the strong sheep and lamb prices of the past 12 months and solid wool prices.
While wool prices have been the shining light and have driven ram sale results for the past few years, this year it was sheep (mutton) and lamb prices that had producers brimming with confidence.
Sheep and lamb prices were again strong over the past 12 months and hit record levels with producers regularly seeing prices surpass $200 in late autumn and early winter.
Despite the dry season and the voluntary suspension of the live sheep trade to the Middle East during their northern summer (June to September), which resulted in more sheep being sold into local processing markets through May, June and July, prices hit record levels for lambs and mutton.
Heavyweight lamb prices peaked at $289 at Katanning on June 5, while mutton topped out at $250 at the Muchea Livestock Centre on July 23.
When lambs hit this record high in June, Meat and Livestock Australia's (MLA) weekly report, for the week ending Tuesday, June 11 reported restocker lamb (0-18kg carcase weight (CWT)) at 652c/kg, which was up 159c/kg (32 per cent) compared to 2018 while light lamb(12-18kg CWT) was at 740c/kg, which was up 149c/kg (25pc).
When it came to trade lamb (18-22kg CWT) it was reported at 862c/kg equating to an increase of 235c/kg (37pc) on the same week in 2018 and heavy lamb (22kg plus) sat at 876c/kg, up 290c/kg (49pc).
The strong markets seen in the middle of the year have continued into the spring with prices continuing to track above last year's levels.
In the MLA weekly report last week, ending November 5, restocker lamb was at 600c/kg, which was up 79c/kg compared to 2018, light lamb was at 611c/kg (up 6c/kg), Merino lamb was at 667c/kg (up 50c/kg) and mutton was at 426c/kg (up 25c/kg).
In terms of wether prices, they have again remained firm and for the majority of the year have sold upwards of $100 at the Muchea Livestock Centre.
Like trade sheep prices, prices at this year's spring ewe sales have also remained strong, despite the dry season, on the back of solid local buying support and interstate interest.
Following on from last year's record values, ewe prices stayed at similar levels with prices peaking at $244 at the Elders Corrigin/Wickepin ewe sale for a line of 1.5-year-old ewes.
But this wasn't the only sale where ewes sold for more than $200, a number of the sales saw top lines go beyond the $200 mark and as a result the ewe offerings in most sales again averaged more than $140 and pushed close to the $150 mark.
While sheep and lamb prices were strong this year, the wool market had producers shaking their heads when ram sales got underway.
The wool market, while still strong, has shown extreme volatility since June with prices up one week and back the next.
In the past few years producers have seen the wool market continue to strengthen year-on-year but, this hasn't been the case over the past six months.
The market took a tumble in June and when the 2018/19 wool selling season finished on June 24 the Western Market Indicator (WMI) sat at 1832c/kg.
Despite this drop off at the end of the season the WMI for the 2018/19 season still averaged 2091 cents per kilogram clean, which made it the highest average for the past 19 seasons.
When you compare last season's average to the 2008/09 season average, you can still see that despite the downturn in the wool market prices are still extremely strong.
In the 2008/09 season the WMI averaged 760c/kg clean, meaning the season average has risen 1331c/kg (275 per cent) over this period.
When the new season's wool sales got underway in earnest at the beginning of August the market eased further, making producers nervous.
In the middle of August, when ram sales got underway the WMI was at 1598c/kg for sale F07 on August 15.
At this mark it meant it was back 681c/kg on the same sale last year when the indicator was at an all time high of 2279c/kg.
Since August producers have seen the wool market act like a yo-yo, with prices up one sale and back the next.
Producers however have seen prices rise slightly since August and the WMI now sits at 1662c/kg following last week's sale F19 on November 7.
Even though the WMI is down on the past couple of years, the returns growers are receiving per bale remains strong.
At last week's level a 185kg bale of 21 micron, 68pc yield wool with good length and strength was worth $2150, compared to $2679 last year and $2010 in 2017.
During the September/ October period when ram sales were on, a bale was worth $2110, compared to $2767 last year and $1985 in 2017.
So with these combined returns for sheep and wool at the forefront of their thoughts, producers again bid up at ram sales, seeking to improve the productivity of their operations and maximise returns.
As a result this year's ram selling season saw 16,531 Merino, British, Australasian and South African breed rams offered at sales and 14,724 sold for a clearance rate of 89pc, a gross of $21,782,750, a $1479 average and to a top of $45,000.
In comparison last year 16,870 rams were offered and 15,277 sold under the hammer for a gross of $23,767,895, at an average of $1556 and a 90pc clearance.
This meant across the board 339 less rams were offered and 553 less were sold, while the gross was down $1,985,145 (8pc) and clearance was down 1pc.
The overall season average of $1479 was also back, dropping $77 on last year's record breaking result.
Compared to 2000 when Farm Weekly started recording sale results for all breeds the average was again more than double, up $782 on that year's average of $697, while compared to 10 years ago (2010) it was up $556 on its average of $923, the lowest recorded in the past decade.
In terms of gross revenue, this year ranks as the second biggest since 2000 and the third time the figure has topped the $20 million mark, with last year and 2017 the only previous occasions.
When it comes to the number of rams offered and sold, the peak was in 2004, when 19,960 rams were offered and 17,272 were sold.
The $45,000 season top price was paid for a March shorn, two-tooth Poll Merino ram from the Edmonds family's Rhamily stud, Calingiri, at the Rabobank WA Sheep Expo & Sale at Katanning in August.
But it was the British and Australasian and the shedding breed sales, which this year experienced a jump in the number of rams offered and sold.
In the British and Australasian breed sales 28 more rams were offered and 110 more sold, while in the shedding breed sales nine more rams were offered and 21 more were sold compared to 2018.
As well as an increase in the number of rams offered and sold, these sales also recorded the only rises in average - the shedding breed sales were up $330 while the average in British and Australasian sales lifted $29 compared to 2018.
In the average stakes the shedding breeds (UltraWhite, Sheepmaster, Kojak and Australian White) performed the strongest achieving an average of $2345 over 275 rams sold, with Sheepmasters the best performing with an average of $3610 for 20 rams offered and sold.
Merinos were next best with an average of $1656 followed by Dohnes at $1397.
The British and Australasian breeds finished with an average of $1102 and it was the
Prolifics with an average of $1804 along with the Maternal Composites, Texels, White Suffolks and Poll Dorsets at $1571, $1222, $1108 and $1066 respectively which were the top performers (for breeds selling more than 30 rams).
In terms of market share the Merinos again held more than 60pc of the market and this year its share for rams sold was 61pc, back 1pc on last year.
The British and Australasian breeds market share for rams sold rose 2pc, finishing at 28pc.
When the British and Australasian breeds market share is broken down for rams sold White Suffolks and Poll Dorsets sit at 15pc and 10pc, making them the next biggest breeds sold behind Merinos.
The Dohne and Prime SAMM breeds recorded a market share of 5pc and 2pc respectively on the number of rams sold, which were both down 1pc on last year.
But when you look at the market share for the breeds on the gross figures Merinos recorded a figure of 69pc (down 2pc), British and Australasian breeds commanded 21pc (White Suffolks 11pc and Poll Dorsets 7pc), Dohnes 5pc, Prime SAMMs 2pc with the shedding breeds and White Dorpers/Dorpers at 3pc and 1pc respectively.
The Merino, White Suffolk, Poll Dorset and Dohne breeds were the breeds to surpass the $1 million gross figure this season, with Merinos clearly the largest topping nearly $15 million in sales.