UNCERTAINTY over COVID-19's impact on wool prices and strong mutton and lamb prices are likely to see the downturn in shorn wool production continuing through next season.
The Australian Wool Production Forecasting Committee (AWPFC) on Friday estimated a 6.3 per cent decline to 281 million kilograms greasy in its fourth estimate for the current season, down from an estimated 300mkg in 2018-19.
This will be followed by a further 1.7pc decline year-on-year to 276mkg next season, the AWPFC estimated in its first forecast for 2020-21.
Similarly, the number of sheep shorn is expected to decline 5.7pc this season, from 72.5 million head in 2018-19 to 68.4m and to drop a further 4.1pc to 65.6m next season.
Shorn sheep numbers are expected to remain at 2018-19 levels in South Australia and Tasmania this season, but decline in all other States - although Western Australia is expected to fare better than most.
The number of sheep shorn in WA this season is expected to be down 2.1pc year on year, compared to down 13.6pc in Queensland, down 9.7pc in New South Wales and down 6.6pc in Victoria.
While the national average wool cut per head is expected to ease 0.5pc, from 4.13kg greasy in 2018-19 to 4.11kg this season, breaking of the drought in the Eastern States and better conditions is likely to see the average cut increase 2.4pc to 4.21kg in 2020-21, the AWPFC said.
It noted that while relatively widespread rain has been welcomed through south eastern Australia and along the eastern seaboard in the first quarter of this year, WA remains dry with on-farm water supplies at low levels and "a sharp increase in the number of interstate sheep transfers".
WA wool production for this season is expected to be down 3.5pc - just over half the national decrease - to 60mkg, from 62.2mkg in 2018-19 and 65.1mkg in 2017-18.
Victoria's wool production is expected to be down 5.4pc to 63.3mkg, from 66.9mkg in 2018-19 and 73.5mkg in 2017-18.
NSW wool production has been hardest hit over the past three seasons, down 6.8pc this season to an estimated 92.4mkg, from 99.1mkg in 2018-19 and 125.7mkg in 2017-18.
The AWPFC expects low sheep numbers will continue to limit any increase in shorn wool production despite the favourable seasonal outlook across many wool producing regions.
"Strong returns for mutton and lamb, along with high sheep replacement costs and uncertainty surrounding the impact of COVID-19 on global demand for wool and on wool prices may slow recovery in wool production despite the favourable seasonal outlook," said AWPFC chairman Russell Pattinson.
State and national forecasting committees will next meet mid August.
p The number of wool bales tested in WA in April was down 12pc compared to national April bale test numbers down 8.4pc year-on-year, according to the latest statistics from the Australian Wool Testing Authority (AWTA).
AWTA's Bibra Lake laboratory tested 34,083 bales in April, compared to 38,746 in April last year.
Only South Australia suffered a bigger fall in April wool tests, down 16.8pc to 16,491 bales tested there.
But despite the sharp decrease in April bale test numbers, WA is doing comparatively well to other wool producing States so far this season.
According to AWTA, by the end of April 326,559 bales had been tested in WA since July 1 last year, a decrease of 3.7pc on bales tests in the same period last season and the smallest drop in wool test numbers of any State.
Nationally, bale test numbers to the end of April were down 6.2pc for the season so far when compared to the same period last season.
The AWTA tests showed average yield of WA wools so far this season is 61.4pc, down 0.4pc on the same period last season and 1pc behind the national average yield.
Average fibre diameter of WA wool is 19.2 microns, finer than the average in other States, with the national average at 20.5 microns.
Average WA staple length so far this season has grown by a millimetre to 85.3mm, but the national average staple length has grown by 1.8mm to 85.8mm.
The percentage of the WA wool clip classed as Superfine, at 19.5 microns or less, has also continued to grow so far this season, by 2.7pc so that 68pc of the clip at the end of April was Superfine, compared to the national average at just 54.7pc.