Drought brings extra scouring for wool in China

Drought brings extra scouring for wool in China | ALPA Stock Talk

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On a recent staff trip to China I had the opportunity to visit a number of mills where I was shown several scouring plants that had added additional "bowls" to their scouring lines.

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GIVEN the adverse seasonal conditions that continue to plague much of the country, I thought it fitting to write about the impact that dry seasonal conditions have had on the NSW wool clip.

The most obvious impact is of course on production.

Key Australian Wool Testing Authority data indicates that greasy wool production in NSW was down from 104,011 tonnes in the 2017/18 season to 85,384t during the 2018/19 season.

This marks a year on year decline of 17.9 per cent and is almost entirely drought related. The decline in clean wool production is even more significant with average yields for NSW fleece wool down by 3pc to an average of 65.3pc.

The flow on effect of lower yields can add up, as not only are the post-sale transport costs per clean kilogram more significant, but processing costs lift as well.

On a recent staff trip to China I had the opportunity to visit a number of mills where I was shown several scouring plants that had added additional "bowls" to their scouring lines.

For those not familiar with the scouring process, scouring lines are typically six "bowls" long with each bowl essentially representing a "wash cycle" containing hot soapy water to remove grease, dirt and other contaminants.

In most mills I visited on the trip, the majority were operating scouring lines seven or eight "bowls" long.

The need for the additional cycle(s) is a direct result of the seasonal conditions in Australia that make it necessary to adequately remove the additional dust and sand that is present.

The average fibre diameter (including crossbred wool) across NSW for the 2018/19 season was exactly 20 micron which was down by 0.6 micron from the previous season.

This may seem an immaterial change to the overall average, but it has resulted in a relative oversupply of superfine wool and an undersupply of medium wool.

More specifically, greasy production finer than 16.5 micron was up by 76.6pc on the prior year while 16.6- to 17.5-micron production was up by 20.3pc.

On the other end of the spectrum, medium wool in the range of 20.6- to 21.5-micron was down by 56.0pc.

The relative oversupply of superfine wool and the lack of medium types made it easy to explain the limited micron premiums during the last few months of the 2018-19 season.

At times during June, AWEX were quoting less than 80c/kg between 17- and 21-micron wools of similar specification which is much lower than the 10-year average of 400c/kg.

For those interested, other seasonal impacts on the wool clip saw average staple length down 2.5pc to 83mm and average staple strength down 3.9pc to 33 newtons per kilotex. There were some small positives with mid break 5.7pc lower to an average of 47.1pc and average vegetable matter down 0.6pc to 2.5pc overall.

Unfortunately, drought is part of agriculture in Australia and wool growers across the country should be commended on their resilience and longevity in the industry.

  • Ben Stace is Australian Wool Network southern NSW regional manager and a member of Australian Livestock and Property Agents Association.
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