Sheep numbers set for rise

Stories by Bob GarnantThe West Australian

Regional Sheep Updates kicked off on this week in Moora, giving a much-needed confidence boost to local producers.

With surrounding farming properties' growing season on a knife's edge, due to low rainfall, the forum attracted a strong crowd of 60 people, many seeking to find how WA was placed in a rapidly changing market.

Department of Agriculture and Food sheep industry development director Bruce Mullan said the WA Government had embarked on a four-year, $10 million project to support the WA sheep industry to capitalise on growing markets for sheep products.

"Sheep are very much a viable option and the project aims to encourage industry growth," he said.

"The push is to double the value of WA's sheep industry by 2025.

"The Sheep Industry Business Innovation project will work with industry to build capacity to supply new markets for sheepmeat and live exports, particularly in Asia and the Middle East.

"The project's priorities will be to support the establishment of dedicated export supply chains that offer the returns needed to restore confidence in the industry.

"It will also aim to increase the on-farm productivity of market-preferred products, through better genetic selection and higher stocking and reproductive rates."

Mr Mullan said other areas of the project looked to improve farm business performance and production skills, increase access to investment and establish the human and physical resources to sustain the industry.

"In a nutshell, we need new dedicated value chains, more intensive production systems, new business and investment models and above all increased productivity," he said.

DAFWA senior research officer Kimbal Curtis said the sheep industry outlook was positive, with rising global sheep meat consumption helping to drive prices for WA sheep.

"Over the past two years, both supply and price for sheep meat have increased significantly, suggesting that growth in demand is outstripping growth in supply," he said.

"At the same time, current wool prices are strong, particularly broad wool, while fine wool is not at a premium due to oversupply. In 2014-15 the Western Market Indicator averaged 1132 cents/kg, 34c/kg higher than in 2013-14."

Mr Curtis said the main lamb and mutton over-the-hooks indicators averaged 60 to 65 cents/kg higher in 2014-15 than the previous year.

"Live export wether quotations in 2014-15 averaged $91/head, $12/head higher than the previous year," he said.

"This has resulted in a decreased proportion of wethers while the proportion of ewes and lambs increased.

"WA has about 8 million breeding ewes, of which 80 per cent are Merino."

Mr Curtis said sheep numbers are estimated to fall by 3.5 per cent for the 2014-15 year.

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