Early start off to flyer

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Bob GarnantCountryman
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An earlier than usual WA sales schedule - beginning on February 14, Valentines Day - was well received by the wool market last week.

The shift to sales beginning on Tuesday was the result of an authorised National Auction Selling Committee four-week trial to allow assessment and evaluation of costs and benefits associated with conducting auction sales earlier in the week.

In a week that the AWEX regional indicators finished 0.4 per cent higher, WA grower Barry Wilkins, of Kondinin, said his 156-bale Narbethong clip reached a 20-year high.

"I have new-found appreciation for wool production," Mr Wilkins said.

Five bales of 18.8 micron produced from the Wilkins' Merino consignment reached the top-price of $950/kg greasy.

"Merino breeding goes back to the 1920s when my grandfather Harrie settled the farm," Mr Wilkins said.

Today Mr Wilkins runs the farm with wife Jan, their son Drew and his wife, Tammy.

The Wheatbelt farming family have stood by Merinos for four generations, in which they selected bloodlines based on Collinsville.

"We used to sell 200 rams annually from our Narbethong stud but as local farmers went all cropping it was not viable to continue the stud progression," Mr Wilkins said.

Mr Wilkins now intermittently introduces a fresh East Mundalla ram into a nucleus of stud ewes to breed rams for the farm's commercial flock.

"We have a total of 4000 sheep and mate 2200 ewes," he said.

During the dry 2010 season the Wilkins had to agist all of their sheep.

But with cull ewes now making $85 per head on top of current wool prices, Mr Wilkins said Merinos were back in business.

"It was the sheep that saved us in 2010 when are crops failed under dry conditions," he said.

"Now with above average rainfall since August, sheep are thriving along with the market."

Gnowangerup wool producer Richard House, of Barloo Merino stud, also was in good spirits after last week's wool market.

"The last two years we have received the best prices since the 1980s," Mr House said.

The House family run a 50:50 sheep/cropping enterprise and readily admit the sheep do better.

"We averaged $1603 per bale for 300 bales of our Barlow main clip offering last week," said Mr House, the Stud Merino Breeders Association of WA president, who will be judging Merinos at Wagin Woolorama on March 9-10.

"Woolorama is a mixed farming event and offers valuable insight into commercial reality," he said.

Mr House encourages the farming community to visit Wagin's contribution to the industry.

"Have a look at the machinery and consider the opportunity with sheep, in particular Merinos," he said.

"If farmers want more diversification, especially those that went all cropping, they can run a few sheep.

"Talk to the breeders at Wagin, they can be the best source of information."

Also attending Woolorama will be many local wool agents who have a handle on where the market is going.

Elders national wool manager Andrew Dennis said China needed 30,000 bales a week just to keep the top making mills running.

"Credit availability continues to be a concern in China, particularly among the smaller mills, so if some of this capacity disappears we will quickly see a reduction in demand in the auction room," he said.

Mr Dennis said the market was starting to move in different directions.

"Demand for some micron categories is reasonable but other types are struggling," he said.

"There is disparity in demand from the different markets around the world."

He said while the cold weather in Europe had improved the retail outlook for wool, some European processors were reporting retailers were having a terrible selling season.

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