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Wool supply concerns, but prices encourage innovation

by Jamie-Lee Oldfield, 09 August 2018

AWEX chair and Elders director Robyn Clubb. Picture – Elders

SUPPLY concern is the dark cloud over an otherwise buoyant wool industry, Australian Wool Exchange chair Robyn Clubb said this week.

The AWEX leader and Elders director farms in a drought-affected area at Cooma, and said the ongoing dry was going to impact sheep numbers, especially in New South Wales.

“It is very concerning when numbers have rebuild and people have regained confidence in running Merinos or expanding their Merino flock and to then be faced with this.

“It takes the shine off great wool prices to have to cope with trying to hold onto your breeding flock and trying to keep those core genetics,” she said.

“Elders has issued a continuance guidance on our year-end forecast and said it is going to be at the lower end, because we are starting to see the impact of people downsizing in terms of livestock numbers.”

Wool prices are encouraging innovation

Speaking at the Elders Southern Wool Clip of the Year awards at Sheepvention in Hamilton this week, Ms Clubb also said good prices were helping create a “great energy” in the industry, and upping the level of innovation.

“With AWEX I think of WoolClip, working on improving efficiency in the supply chain and improving traceability.

“The end customers and the processors demand greater transparency and are wanting to know provenance of the wool, and wanting to know if the sheep have been mulesed or not mulesed,” she said

“So what WoolClip is all about is capturing the information so much easier, but also the accuracy of the information of the bale as it gets to the shed – for the wool broker or if it is direct, it is making that whole supply chain more transparent and more accurate, and less double handling,” she said.

WoolClip, which Ms Clubb said is currently having a soft launch, is a website and application allowing wool growers to easily build wool specification sheets with on-farm data, and send them on to the warehouse and wool broker.

WoolClip is not to be confused with WoolQ, which is Australian Wool Innovation’s online wool exchange portal. AWI and AWEX have yet to come to an agreement over when it comes to data sharing and ownership in regard to WoolQ.

Ms Clubb said AWEX was “always willing to come to the table and see where we can work together” when it came to talking data with AWI, but AWEX continued to get a “no we are not interested response” in return.

“We are very conscious of doing what we are to ensure we don’t duplicate resources in the industry, but it takes two to tango and at the moment there is only one tangoing,” she said.

Elders digital plans based on partnerships

Ms Clubb also spoke to producers attending Sheepvention about Elders plans to expand their digital presence in the industry by partnering with other key bodies.

She said by partnering with groups such as Meat & Livestock Australia and Horticulture Australia Limited, who were already heavily investing in research and development, they could work on actually getting new innovations to farmers.

“We don’t have all the knowledge – so we are not going to have a platform that is exclusive to Elders…but the big challenge for them (RDCs) has always been how are we going to roll this out to farmers and get it to them so they can make money,” she said.

“There is such a plethora of agtech and ag services it is overwhelming to know what will work well for a particular farmer, and how do you bring together all that data…to an overall model for your farm that is customised to your operation.

“The challenge is to be able to carve through all these different platforms – and that is another issue, you have all these proprietary platforms like machinery companies who only want to allow people to use their data or analytics when buying a certain machine, but that isn’t getting the best outcome for the producer,” Ms Clubb said.

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