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Live trade vital for Merinos

Cate RocchiCountryman
Woolorama president Malcolm Edward.
Camera IconWoolorama president Malcolm Edward. Credit: Countryman

The 2014 outlook for Merinos is positive and WA sheep numbers are rising, according to Woolorama president Malcolm Edward, life member of the Stud Merino Breeders' Association of WA.

However, Mr Edward said growth hinged on the continuation of the live export trade.

The WA sheep population is about 14 million, down from highs of 39 million several decades ago.

Mr Edward said many Wheatbelt farmers moved to continuous cropping about a decade ago, destocking their land of sheep.

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"Destocking (sheep) is not working for everyone, and as a result of continuous cropping, weeds are becoming more resistant to chemicals," he said.

The emphasis on continuous cropping was brought about by declining wool prices and, subsequently, poorer returns than in the past.

"The outlook for Merinos is now good, provided we retain our live export trade," Mr Edward said.

"It hinges on that. If we haven't got the live export trade, it will be a disaster as far as the sheep industry is concerned.

"If all sheep had to be slaughtered domestically, then sheep prices would drop back due to lack of competition. This would also affect prices in the Eastern States.

"Before we had all the disruption to live export, sheep prices had never been better."

Prices peaked in excess of $100, two years ago, he said.

Mr Edward and his son Raymond run 800 Merinos on his 2800-hectare Belmont Park farm, near Wagin.

Mr Edward considers that Belmont Park's Poll Merinos are as good as any globally.

The stud had previously imported embryos from South Africa but the progeny did not match up to their own breeding.

However, Belmont Park is not reluctant to use outside genetics where there was an obvious possibility of improvement, Mr Edward said.

On the future of the wool market, he said indications were that wool prices would get stronger.

"At the moment the fine wool price is below its peak of previous years, however medium wools are selling consistently well," Mr Edward said.

He said China was Australia's principal customer, with Chinese cloth manufacturers preferring medium to broad microns over superfine wool.

Mr Edward has served on the committee of the Stud Merino Breeders' Association of WA for 40 years and been involved in various AWI committees.

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