Australian wool test volumes have fallen well outside the normal range for the month of January, indicating labour shortages and wet weather may be having a considerable impact on wool making it to auction.
According to the Australian Wool Testing Authority (AWTA) data it was the quietest start to a calendar year in at least a decade.
AWTA tested about 22,000 greasy tonnes or 124,000 bales in January - 17 per cent below the January seven year average.
Typically, over the last seven years January test weights have ranged between 24,000 and 27,000 tonnes of wool.
But could the decline be an industry shift and signal the decrease of shorn wool production in Australia?
Executive Director of the National Council Wool Selling Brokers Paul Deane said the disappointing trend follows on from the lower levels recorded in the last quarter of 2021.
"The amount of wool tested by AWTA in the last quarter of 2021 tracked below the longer term average," Mr Deane said.
"The percentage change year-on-year in AWTA test data for the entire year, while not flawless, is still the best indication the industry has on how Australian shorn wool production is changing."
He said considering the amount of actual wool that has already been tested so far this season, test data for the remaining five months needs to be higher than at any stage for the past seven years for a number of months for the season test data to increase eight per cent, year-on-year.
"The question is whether this projection is plausible - and if it is, autumn receivables will be even higher than last year," Mr Deane said.
He said the disappointing start to the year could be a real reflection of both shearing and delivery delays from both wet weather and labour shortages.
"Interestingly though, in the state of NSW where the decline would be most expected, test data was only marginally down year-on-year," he said.
The latest Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) survey revealed of the national breeding ewes on hand, Merino ewes made up 72pc - the second consecutive quarter this figure was below 75pc and down 3pc on the same quarter last year.
And according to industry experts continued strong sheepmeat prices will impact future wool supply.
This will not only result in increased crossbred wool entering the market, but the number of shedding sheep that produce no wool will also increase in this scenario.
Nutrien Ag Solutions NSW south east wool broker David Hart said their figures match the AWTA data with a drop in receivables for January, but he warned not to jump to any strong conclusions just yet.
"I think the combination of wet sheep, wet roads and shortage of shearers have all played are part in the January figures," Mr Hart said.
"And people are still harvesting in places - which is strange to say, but the season has been a lot later."
However, he said the "catch up" has started with receivables accelerating of late.
"But how much of it is wool that isn't there any longer is everybody's worry........but I guess we will find that out in the course of time," Mr Hart said.
"It is very dangerous to jump to conclusions from one month's data.
"That sort of conclusion should be made over a period of time and look at the trends. Month-by-month it can change considerably, as we are currently seeing."
Mr Deane said the alternative could be the 2021-22 wool production forecast is simply too optimistic,
"Or it could simply be that producers are building on-farm stocks given the high farm incomes being achieved across diversified broadacre crop and sheep enterprises at the moment," he said.
"Either of these scenarios means short-term wool supply availability at auction might be lower than what the trade were expecting."
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