Polwarth breeders seek breed-specific AWEX wool description

Terry Sim July 31, 2017

Polwarth breeders Simon and Kerryn Gatenby with their reserve grand champion fleece at the 2017 Australian Fleece Competition.

POLWARTH breeders are rebelling against the description of their wool as crossbred or comeback in the Australian auction system.

The Polwarth Sheepbreeders’ Association of Australia is joining Tasmanian breeder Simon Gatenby in asking AWEX in its latest Code of Practice Review to describe their wool as Polwarth, rather than with crossbred or Merino descriptions.

After receiving several letters from the Australian Wool Exchange to stop branding his bales using the letter ‘M’, which normally describes Merino wool, Mr Gatenby and the association are seeking a unique bale description for wool from the breed.

“Historically, I have always put ‘M’ on it because it is 22 micron, sometimes 21, depending on the season, 23 if it is a really good season.

“It sort of fits within that Merino wool type and that’s what we’ve typed it as,” Mr Gatenby said.

“But the last few years we’ve been getting nasty letters back from AWEX, saying you are not typing your wool properly, you’ve got to type it as FX (fine crossbred).

“We want to sell it as Polwarth wool, because there is good demand for it.”

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$4 a kg discount for Polwarth wool under CBK brand

Polwarth Sheepbreeders’ Association of Australia president Greg Potter said the body supported a specific description for Polwarth wool. He said the breed was struggling to maintain sheep numbers and a breed-specific bale description could help increase returns and wool production.

“There are buyers out there looking for Polwarth wool and we can’t get in touch with them because when it goes through the auction system it is listed as anything from MX to comeback (CBK) to Merino and they can’t find it.”

AWEX has allowed his and other Polwarth breeders’ wool to be sold under a Merino description, he said.

“If we go as comeback we lose about $4 a kilogram.”

Mr Potter said he sold his wool under a different property brand when he decided to describe it as Merino.

“With no change in the market, we went from $6 a kilogram to around the $10 mark, about five years ago.”

Mr Potter said Polwarth wool production was dwindling, with breeder numbers dropping from 700 breeders years ago to about 40 today.

“Those few extra dollars for our wool, or even if we knew someone was looking for our wool it would give us some encouragement.

“We are trying to do something before it is too late.””

The Gatenby clip’s classer has described some wool for sale as comeback or CBK.

“But that’s not really right either, is it?

“I’m not happy with CBK because my wool broker here in Tasmania is telling me that buyers are wanting Polwarth wool,” Mr Gatenby said.

Crossbred brand does not accurately describe Polwarth wool

Mr Gatenby said when his Polwarth wool is typed as FX it is offered much later in the catalogue among the crossbred clips, potentially costing competition, when he believes it should be offered after the Merino clips, but before the crossbreds.

“The brokers are doing a good job in maintaining interest in our wool because they are letting them know it is there, but the way the code works it should be easy to see where the Polwarth wool is in the catalogue.

“It is a finer style wool anyway, so it fits well among a lot of the Merinos that are listed in the catalogue,” he said.

“At 22 microns, there are some Merinos that are over that.”

Polwarth wool is described by the Polwarth Sheepbreeders’ Association of Australia as super type wool-stylish, white, long-stapled, soft-handling and high-yielding.

Under average conditions, it is visually a 58s/60s count fleece which averages about 23 microns, ranging between 21 and 25 microns depending on feed availability and climate conditions, with a staple length of 110-120mm, the association says on its website. The breed was developed from three-quarters Merino and one-quarter Lincoln blood sheep in the 1880s, near Colac, in Victoria.

Mr Gatenby has been home on the family farm at Wetsbury, in central north Tasmania, for 11 years, and at the recent Australian Fleece Competition, a 20.3 micron from the family’s Roxford Pastoral operation won the reserve champion award. It was the first time in competition history that a non-Merino fleece claimed a major award.

“To be treated the same (by AWEX) after 11 years, I’m starting to get to the point where I’ve had enough.

“They take their fees off us every year and they are giving me nothing back for it.”

Mr Gatenby said ‘P’ would be a logical brand letter for Polwarth, despite the use of PCS indicating pieces.

“That’s fine, but you would put AAA in front of the P for a fleece line, wouldn’t you?”

Roxford Pastoral’s wool broker, Roberts Ltd operations manager Rob Calvert supported Polwarth wool being described for what it is and sold separate from crossbred wool. He said there is specific demand for Polwarth wool from Italian and Japanese buyers.

“When you have specific demand for wool from a specific breed, it should be advertised as from that breed.

“Just like a Merino order takes Merino wool a Polwarth order should take Polwarth wool,” he said.

Submissions to the latest AWEX Code of practice Review closed on Friday, July 28.


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  1. Edward Wymer, August 2, 2017

    Simon, to escape from these petty functionaries at AWEX you should do as Greg Potter suggested, every year if necessary. Don’t worry if your wool is sold as Polwarth or Merino, the most important thing is the price. Once your wool is scoured no one knows where it came from. Don’t believe the broker who told you that buyers want Polwarth wool; style died with the introduction of objective measurement thirty five years ago. There are several other reasons for changing your brand. Now and then buyers remember detrimental points; ie. ‘This brand had a burr in it last year’ and walk on by.

  2. Parto, July 31, 2017

    Well done for standing up for yourself. AWEX breed codes are costing growers money when for all intensive purposes fine crossbred (British breeds) are suitable for Merino types, but crossbred branding knocks out the competition. Full names required in future for reader comments please Parto, as per our long-standing comments policy: Editor.

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