Strong prices take some of the sting out of long dry autumn

STOCK FEED: Gary Drew has been feeding his stock in the absence of autumn rains. Picture: JAMES WILTSHIRE
STOCK FEED: Gary Drew has been feeding his stock in the absence of autumn rains. Picture: JAMES WILTSHIRE

For sheep farmers the resurgence of wool has helped soften the long dry.

Pushed by demand from China and low sheep numbers, Australia’s 25,000 woolgrowers are enjoying the best prices for years.

Last week the benchmark eastern market indicator (EMI) fetched 555 cents a kilogram higher than 12 months ago and broke through the $20 kilogram mark for the first time, finishing on 2027c/kg clean. 

The week’s rise was on par in US dollar terms, increasing 33c to hit 1533c.

In US currency this was also a record, being 18c above the previous high of 1515c in June 2011 when the US exchange rate was 105.5c. 

Brocklesby mixed farmer Gary Drew, “Northwood”, said strong prices for lamb had also played out favourably for the sheep industry.

“Wool prices are wonderful, there's no doubt about it and we’re all very happy about it,” he said

“There is demand around the world for wool and we, as a country, have got a lot less sheep running around now then we had in the past.

“The sheep numbers don’t seem to be rising too much. Because lamb prices, the meat component, have been worth a fair bit, they’ve been sent to the butcher.

“If it was only the wool component that was worth a lot of money sheep numbers would build up reasonably quickly but because the meat side of things has also been quite good it has probably kept a bit of a lid on the numbers.”

Jenni Turner, Fox and Lillie Rural at Culcairn, said despite the dry conditions the returns for wool were delivering deserving rewards for people who had stuck with sheep and remained loyal to the industry.

“People can put money into long and overdue infrastructure and it is good to see all of the positivity about wool prices,” she said. 

However, she stressed that there was mounting concern about the dry conditions.

Ms Turner said it was normal for supply to be quite low at this time of the year but there was still some quality fleece coming in. 

Mr Drew said the missing autumn break and dwindling supplies of hay made feeding stock a costly exercise.

“Ours are getting into the mid pregnancy, and those with twins in them it’s costing us between 30 cents and 50 cents a day to keep them alive, so that adds up,” he said. \After a run of five excellent autumn breaks, he was not surprised by how this season was unfolding.

“Sooner or later we’re going to get a late autumn break. Let’s hope it’s the autumn break that’s going to arrive over this next few days,” he said Thursday evening.

“At this time of the year we won’t need a lot to keep them ticking along but unfortunately we’ve got nothing underneath so at some stage we’re going to need a really good dosing.”