THE exciting times and the opportunities to be had in the Merino industry were reinforced by Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan at the Stud Merino Breeders' Association of WA annual general meeting in Perth last week.
Ms MacTiernan said the sheep industry was a particularly exciting one to be involved in when it came to prices and the demand for both meat and wool.
"It has been fantastic to see the world demand for protein has produced some spectacular results for the sheep industry," Ms MacTiernan said.
"We have seen record increases in prices and volumes of meat exports.
"The growth in some of the Middle East markets has been extraordinary and these are very promising markets for us.
"The Chinese market had also opened up but is currently a challenge, however once we pass through the coronavirus madness we think this market will again be strong."
Ms MacTiernan also discussed industry challenges including the reduction of WA's sheep flock numbers and the move away from the consumption of meat protein to other forms of protein.
She said given the demand for sheep meat, it would be distressing if there was a further decline in flock numbers.
"I understand sheep are a challenge and very hard work and when the wool prices collapsed, many farmers got out and went to a purely cropping system," she said.
"However I think those farmers which have a mixed operation that incorporates livestock have a much better prognosis when it comes to carbon footprints and reliance on herbicide and chemical inputs.
"A lot of work has been done on showing that a mixed grain/sheep model has incredible value and there are a lot of new technologies being developed which makes some tasks much easier when it comes to running sheep."
When it comes to rebuilding the flock Ms MacTiernan said producers needed to breed more sheep and make sure they were maximising the productivity of their ewes.
"As an industry you need to be aware of both and understand your customer and how they are thinking," she said.
"It is interesting the environmental concern and the carbon footprint is an even bigger driver than the concern for animal welfare and when comes to the environmental side of the equation, the industry has a positive story to tell when you look at not just the meat but also the fibre.
"One of the best ways of reducing and quickest ways of reducing our carbon footprint is to reduce the artificial N (urea) inputs and is to have rotation cropping or pastures programs using legumes using the nitrogen fixers."
Ms MacTiernan said the industry also needed to sell wool's environmental benefits and its sustainability as a fibre.
"Wool really has to be central to the way we promote the sheep industry," she said.
"When you compare wool to the carbon footprint of synthetics that are produced by petrochemicals, the story for wool is extremely positive."
Ms MacTiernan said animal welfare was still a community issue, saying "every time we have publicity around an animal welfare drama it does damage the reputation of the industry and all of Australian agriculture".
"As a result it is really important we have high levels of credibility in our animal welfare system, we need to make sure we have a system that is credible and doesn't produce these shock horror incidents that get a massive community reaction against the industry," she said.
In referencing mulesing and the use of pain relief, Ms MacTiernan said the industry was seeing significant premiums for non-mulesed wool but there were also some statistical proof sound premiums were being paid for wool from sheep that had been mulesed with pain relief.
"There are also studies which have shown the use of pain relief at mulesing has productivity benefits as well," she said.
"The sheep recover more quickly and there is a reduced the risk of mismothering and malnutrition.
"I really encourage producers to keep an open mind and really consider the case around using pain relief when it comes to mulesing as it is a start in terms of animal welfare."