Business

Small Business

Sheer genius— Australia

Preface

Fine fleeces /Having faltered during the 1990s, the Australian Merino wool industry is seeing a resurgence on the back of a growing luxury market in China and it’s proving a welcome boost to Brand Australia along the way.

Australia, Business, China, Luxury, Market, Merino wool, New, Sheep, small

The pastoral hills of Boorowa, 340km southwest of Sydney, do not conform to the typical image of the sunbleached Australian outback. But this is the heartland of the au$2.4bn (€1.9bn) Merino wool industry and a new source of optimism for the Australian economy.

Following the 1991 collapse of the government-led protectionist Reserve Price Scheme – which manipulated the global wool market for almost two decades and led to a devastating 20-year free-fall in Merino flock numbers – Australia’s 43,000 wool growers are only just starting to find their…

The logistics

Ninety per cent of Australian Merino is sold through the national auction system, managed by Elders Australia. Before auction, each wool grower’s clip is taken to a regional centre for testing by the Australian Wool Testing Authority (AWTA), where a core sample is taken to ascertain micron, yield and vegetable matter content. The sample is then sent to laboratories in Melbourne and Fremantle to be assessed for micron value. Once purchased, three bales of wool are compacted by machine into one bale, bar-coded and loaded into containers.

Fine fleeces

The quality of Merino is measured in microns (micrometres) and the lower the micron, the finer the wool. The Australian Wool Testing Authority (AWTA) has lent its technology to Merino wool growers since the 1980s, meaning every sheep can be individually tested for fibre length, strength, and curvature.

So how does one discern between the different micron fleeces? In terms of fleece definition, ultrafine wool is considered to be 14.9 micron and finer. Superfine wool is between 15 and 18.6 microns, and coarse wool is anything above 23 microns.

Raising the baa

What to look for in a Merino sheep, as told by wool grower, Tim McGrath, of Hopefield, Boorowa, NSW

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