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Ancestry of a Legend: The Sheep’s Back

June 16, 2011

In the golden years of the wool industry it was said that Australia rode on the sheep’s back. The onset of the Korean War in the 1950s gave rise to another wool industry saying — albeit one less well-known today — “a pound a pound”. The war made demand for Australian wool surge as soldiers needed woollen coats to survive the freezing winters. The expression meant that woolgrowers earned a pound (in currency) for a pound (in weight) of wool grown. It was a lucrative return that today’s growers can only dream about.

Today, wool’s golden era is long gone and of the woolgrowers remaining it could be said that many are now riding on lamb chops and cutlets, wheat harvesters and tractors just as much as on the sheep’s back.

A doctor of agricultural economics, Caroline Gunning-Trant, speaks with commonsense, a Canadian accent and an encyclopedic knowledge of the economics of the wool industry. She is the wool analyst at ABARE and sees an industry in transformation.

She says wool production has declined because of the decline in flock size, reduced wool prices, severe drought and woolgrowers increasingly turning to other types of farming.

Gunning-Trant believes the number of alternative fibres to wool and the type of disposable culture we live in mean the industry won’t return to the boom times. But she believes that the fall in production and exports can be turned around. “Of course it can,” she says.

“What you need are the incentives. You need stronger prices, you need an industry with confidence in its markets and with its future, and that relies on strong demand by international buyers. I think there can be a resurgence, but the form it will take and the size the industry will be when wool has established itself again is unknown.

“There are many people out there who feel wool is dead. I’m not one of them. Maybe I’m an optimist, maybe I’m ignorant, maybe I haven’t been in this country long enough. But there will always be a demand for wool, and Australia is the leading producer of fine wool so buyers will come here.”

Sourced WA Today.com.au

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