AN increase by more than one third in the number of wool bales tested in WA during December, compared to the previous December, indicates wool production this season is almost back on par with last season.
According to Australian Wool Testing Authority (AWTA), it tested 28,726 bales at its Bibra Lake laboratory in December, compared to 21, 034 bales tested the previous December - a 36.6 per cent increase year on year.
The national year-on-year December increase in AWTA bale tests across Australia was 15pc.
The WA increase in bale test numbers was more than double the next biggest December increase in any other state - 17.8pc in Tasmania, but that was with only 2656 bales tested, up from 2255 the previous December.
The two biggest wool producing states of Victoria and New South Wales recorded bale test increases of 11pc and 11.4pc respectively in December year on year, according to AWTA.
In WA the jump in bale numbers tested in December was a reversal of a downward trend in wool test numbers during spring, compared to the previous spring in a better season.
In November and September AWTA WA bale test numbers were down by 10.6pc and 13.4pc respectively on the corresponding months of the previous year and test numbers in October were only up 2.2pc.
AWTA wool test statistics indicate that WA and Victoria now produce more wool from autumn shearings than from traditional spring shearings.
In NSW more wool is still produced at spring shearings.December wool test numbers showed WA gained slightly on NSW, with WA making up 20.2pc of the national clip test total, compared to 25.3pc for NSW and a 41.2pc for Victoria.
During spring, average testing in WA had comprised 21.5pc of the national total compared to 27.2pc for NSW and 35.6pc for Victoria.
Importantly, December tests at Bibra Lake lifted the total number of bales tested at the midway point of the current season, July 1-December 31, in WA back to within 1.2pc of the number tested during the corresponding first half of the previous season.
In the first half of this season AWTA tested 173,829 bales of WA wool compared to 175,930 at the mid point of last season, the smallest drop in corresponding year-on-year bale test numbers of any state.WA's 1.2pc decrease in test numbers compared to a national reduction for the same period of 5.7pc and for the season first half, WA maintained a 20.3pc share of national wool volumes tested.
AWTA's wool test records support other statistics indicating a long term declining trend in annual national wool clip volumes.
So in that context the December spike in WA wool tests bringing this season - a very dry one so far with high supplementary feed costs - back in line with last season - a better season with more green feed available in the first half - is important.
Throughout last season and earlier this season wool brokers and traders returning from China consistently said Australia's long-term declining wool production was of major concern to wool processors there worried about return on investment for significant capital expenditure on factories and equipment.
According to the brokers and traders, Chinese wool processors wanted to see some sign the decline in wool production could be halted, to give them confidence to buy more wool and to pay more for it.
The fact they have been paying historically good prices for Merino wool for three years but that has not influenced the decline in production baffles Chinese wool processor logic, according to regular industry visitors to China.
Perhaps the December WA wool test numbers - hopefully followed by strong autumn shearing test numbers - might prove to be the sign they are looking for.AWTA statistics show that at the mid-point of the season, WA average fleece yield is holding up at 63.1pc, slipping only 0.2pc on the same period last season, while the average fibre diameter of 19.2 microns and amount of vegetable matter in the fleece at 1.6pc, are unchanged from last season despite this season's drier first half.
Average WA fleece staple length so far this season is 1.1 millimetres longer, at 86.2mm, than in the first half of last season and there is slightly less critical mid break at 48.8pc.
The percentage of superfine wool up to 19.5 microns in the WA clip continued to increase during the first half of this season and it now comprises 68.4pc of WA wool.
By comparison, superfine wool's proportion of the national clip was 56.2pc at the end of December, according to AWTA.