Big alpaca fleece sale disappoints

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Bob GarnantCountryman

The biggest auction of Australian produced alpaca fibre was held last week at the Wool Selling Centre in Bibra Lake.

The consignment included 13 bales from WA breeders Peter and Carolyn Richards, of Suncloud Farm, Merredin, one bale of Suri fleece from John and Gwyn Bell's Eversprings stud, Mt Helena, and seven bales from members of Premium Alpaca, a national consortium.

Unfortunately for the sellers bidding was well below reserve prices and Primaries auctioneer Terry Winfield had no choice but to pass-in all but one lot of Suncloud floor sweepings, which sold for 150 cents/kg.

After the auction there was a scramble to secure private negotiations.

Primaries wool technician and alpaca fibre sale co-ordinator Greg Tilbrook said negotiations with a Chinese buyer would be ongoing on the passed-in lots and the issue had been raised that China was concerned about scouring contamination.

"Last year the Chinese were asking for 100 bales," Mr Tilbrook said.

"But the Chinese are being cautious especially when it comes to introducing low volumes of alpaca which may disrupt the processing of much larger volumes of Merino wool."

However, his successful post-sale negotiations were welcomed by alpaca breeders.

The Richards sold a 19.6 micron bale of alpaca fibre last year for 2800 cents/kg to a Chinese buyer.

"That price might have been over-inflated at the time," Mr Richards said.

The soft rolling skin breeder said the alpaca industry was struggling to produce volume.

Australian Alpaca Association national president Jenny McAuliffe, who breeds alpacas in WA, said the State had about 9500 registered animals and experienced an annual growth of 10 per cent.

"Alpacas only produce 2kg of fibre in a normal year so Australia is low on volume when it comes to commercial viability," Ms McAuliffe said.

Mr Tilbrook said that three bales of fleece catalogued under Premium Alpaca sold the following day to an Australian buyer.

He said the post-sale prices included 1850 cents/kg for a 20.2 micron bale, 1400c/kg for a 22.2 micron bale and 1100c/kg for one of 23.6 micron.

All three bales were sold to Alpaca Ultimate, of Laggan, New South Wales, an independent, self-funded group which buys alpaca fleece to make a range of products in Australia and New Zealand.

Alpaca Ultimate partner Penny Pittard told _Countryman _ after the sale that their business concentrated on buying fibre produced by Premium Alpaca, a cluster group.

She said while Alpaca Ultimate's three-bale purchase was made up of fibre produced in South Australia, the company had in the past bought WA fibre from Premium Alpaca members.

"We were pleased with alpaca fibre produced by Darryl and Anne Sherman's property in Corrigin and will be looking to buy more from WA Premium Alpaca producers in the future," Mrs Pittard said.

"We are confident that Premium Alpaca is educating its member growers into classing the particular lines that complement our products."

Part of this education process has been conducted by Australian Alpaca Fibre Testing owner Paul Vallely, who runs the biggest alpaca fibre testing business in the world.

"We test about 30,000 alpacas a year," Mr Vallely said.

Besides managing the wool testing business, Mr Vallely and his family run a superfine Merino commercial flock on their NSW property and have been involved in marketing fine wool to Peru and Italy.

"Like superfine Merino, alpaca is a potential recession-proof luxury fibre," he said.

Mr Vallely said members of Premium Alpaca, including some WA producers, had combined to produce a 17.8 micron bale which will be auctioned in WA next year.

"This bale has a limited market but should draw the interest of the most experienced processors of alpaca fibre," he said.

WA producer Ron Raynor, who attended the sale, said he was disappointed that all but one of the lots were passed in but appreciated that three bales sold post-sale went to an Australian buyer.

"The overseas buyer interest will eventually come good through more education of the quality behind alpaca fibre and the industry's ability to overcome any impediments due to a perceived lack of scouring facilities in Australia," Mr Raynor said.

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