ULTRAFINE wool growers Ed and Jill Hundy are proud first-time winners of the Australian Superfine Wool Growers Association fleece competition’s Cleckheaton grand champion fleece award.
But their win in the Mudgee and overall sections of the award was a bitter-sweet moment for a couple who has devoted their life to a fibre that is now proving unviable.
Their 2.7kg Bradford quality 90s fleece scored an impressive 97.2 points out of 100 in the competition, with top marks for quality (17.6/18); weight (22/22); yield (9.6/10); trueness, conformity and evenness (14.5/15), and; general excellence (4.5/5).
Competition co-judge, Schute Bell Badgery Lumby Goulburn manager Mark Taylor, said the Hundy fleece was a classic spinners’ type and was a good weight.
“The fact that it was so even right from the tip to the base made it stand out to the degree that it did.”
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Mr Taylor judged the fleeces with Australian Wool Network’s former senior territory wool manager at Goulburn, Ray Moroney. The Hundys were unable to attend the ASWGA Re-union Dinner in Hamilton at the weekend to accept the award trophy from Australian Country Spinners chief executive officer Brenda McGahan, but their acceptance speech was read to the gathering. They said they accepted the award with great pleasure.
“It has always been our objective when entering competitions like this to enter the very best product we can produce,” the Hundy statement said.
“Since recent changes in the national Ermenegildo Zegna Fleece Competition, this competition would appear to be the last bastion for competition between ultra and superfine fleeces.”
Difficult to produce unsupported product
However, like most ultrafine wool producers who have suffered through years of low prices for their specialist sub-16.5 micron fibre that took decades of careful breeding to produce, the Hundys have disappointedly had to diversify to continue farming and maintain their precious Merino flock.
“Unfortunately it is becoming increasingly difficult to continue to produce a niche product that the market is unwilling to support with an appropriate price,” the Hundy statement went on to say.
“As I am sure most of you are well aware, superfine and in particular ultrafine wool is not a quality that you can jump ship from and expect to just get straight back on board.
“One outcross will eradicate decades of breeding.”
Ed Hundy’s son Andrew said he and his father are disillusioned with the market for ultrafine wool, with very few opportunities for price premiums, and only for limited quantities of wool, since the Global Financial Crisis of 2007-2008. If growers couldn’t produce premium IPP bales, they were paid the general market price, he said.
“Which is considerably less and not much above the general market – it’s not viable for ultrafine wool.”
Andrew said the Hundy operation has diversified by adding more beef cattle and more prime lambs, and starting a flock of larger frame more fertile Merinos with heavier bolder crimped superfine fleeces.
“But that is part of the problem with the wool market, is that it there is so much wool that is finer than it used to be, in its own type.”
He doesn’t expect the post-GFC ultrafine wool prices will return, because technology has meant better longer-lasting products can be made from slightly broader wool.
“I personally don’t see it, but I’ve been wrong before – I don’t think is much of a revival on the cards.”
“I understand that it is business, if they don’t have to pay for it, why should they?” he said.
“From our perspective, if that type of (ultrafine) wool is not supported, then it will not be very long before there will not be any of it around and that won’t be our fault.
“As good as these competitions are to win and there are competitions that can be quite financially beneficial, you can’t live off it.”
Ultrafine wool prices sometimes 10pc of rates 10 years ago
Andrew Hundy said ultrafine wool producers have also maintained their sheep by working harder and not employing labour.
“I still shear all our sheep and my Dad and my wife Penny do the wool preparation, which given where the market is there will probably be a little bit less emphasis on wool preparation in the future.
“If we double skirt wool, we get discounted because we pulled it off the fleece, whereas if you run around the edge and put it all in, you get the fleece price on the lot.”
Andrew’s parents are running 2500-3000 ultrafine sheep on ‘Windradeen’s 1100 hectares at Sallys Flat between Bathurst and Mudgee, but they have run up to 6000.
“But you don’t have to shear cows.”
He said his father had worked since he left school to improve his flock’s wool quality and had got it to a “pretty good spot” that was successful in the market.
“But the market has fallen over and it is pretty hard for something who has been striving for something their entire life to all of a sudden make changes because the market has all of sudden disappeared.”
The Hundys are also looking at breeding a similar type heavier cutting larger framed ultrafine Merino to “stay somewhere within the realms of what we have been doing.”
The Hundy flock has generally produced 14-15 micron wool, with none over 16 micron, and in 2000 produced the then finest paddock-grown bale of wool at 12.9 microns.
Andrew said in 2008, some Hundy bales sold for around 24,000c/kg greasy.
“You can’t get 2500 cents for it now.
“There are parts of the ultrafine wool market that would be 10 percent of what it was.”
The fleece competition’s regional and section winners were: Western Australia, Fay and James Pepper, Mumballview, Mumballup; Tasmania, Allan and Caroline Phillips, Glen Stuart, Deddington; Albury-Wodonga, Margaret and Ian Humphry, Avondale, Winton; Hamilton, Trevor and Cathy Mibus, Glenara; New England and 70s section, Mark and Lesleann Waters, Riverton, Armidale; Arrarat-Barunah and 74s section, Russell and Penny Hartwich, Kelsedale, Ballyrogan; Goulburn-Yass section, Danny and Megan Picker, Hillcreston Park, Bigga; 80s section, Russell and Penny Hartwich and Danny and Megan Picker.
The Hundys also thanked the judges, and the Australian Superfine Wool Growers Association for promoting their product and for the opportunity to enter the competition.