Jo Hall has spent her life in the wool industry, from growing up on a sheep and cattle property in southern New South Wales, to being a roustabout and mobile wool tester before eventually showing her true mettle by securing the position of Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of WoolProducers Australia six years ago.
And she still manages to maintain a hand in a small self-replacing Merino operation she operates with her husband Dave, in the Crookwell district of NSW.
It would be safe to say has her finger on the pulse when it comes to Australia's wool industry.
According to Ms Hall for the past 12 months, the biggest influences on the industry have been labour shortages and the declining Merino ewe base.
"The ongoing shearer shortage continues to plague the Australian wool industry, with nationwide reports of woolgrowers struggling to find shearers and shed hands and getting their sheep shorn on time," Ms Hall said.
"Getting sheep crutched is an even bigger challenge, with many stories of shearing contractors flatly refusing to undertake any crutching at all.
"The delay in shearing is having animal welfare and wool quality impacts."
And she said while the Australian sheep flock is increasing and the amount of wool being produced is expected to rise, these figures shouldn't be taken as an indication that there is a swing back to wool production.
"This is simply rebuilding numbers and production from historical lows in 2020 following favourable seasons in the last few years after the break in the eastern Australian drought," Ms Hall said.
"In fact, Merino ewes are declining both in volume and as a percentage of the national breeding ewe flock, and for the first time Merino ewes now make up less than 75pc of the breeding ewe flock accounting for 72pc."
Anecdotally, the move away from Merinos, she said, is being attributed to the shearer shortage, which is influencing the competition for land usage away from wool production.
The disruptions don't appear too different in the next 12 months as labour continues to be an ongoing issue as well as shipping and logistical delays, but they are topped off with increasing customer demands and biosecurity threats.
"There is simply no solution in the short- term that will provide a significant pool of skilled shearers, unless we see New Zealand wool harvesting staff return in numbers," Ms Hall said.
"While it's encouraging to see the amount of training being conducted, the industry needs to start focusing on attraction and retention of these workers."
She said the current federal government international labour schemes, including the Ag Visa and the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) scheme are not applicable in their current forms to the wool industry given the pastoral care, full-time work and accommodation requirements
"The international countries involved in these schemes do not have sheep populations so any workers that were engaged through these schemes would require training and more importantly time, to become skilled," Ms Hall said.
The delays in global shipping could start to have negative impacts on the Australian wool market, as storage reaches capacity and the inability of exporters to shift wool impacts the financing of the industry due to delays in issuing letters of credit, she warned.
And the ongoing shut downs in China are further compounding the shipping delays, without an end in sight.
Covid-19 has also had its influence on the market, increasing customer demands regarding provenance and traceability.
Ms Hall said the pandemic has impacted consumer sentiments and growing awareness of where the products come from, underpinned by the mantra of 'buy once - buy well'.
"The circular economy which aims to preserve resources by retaining the quality and value of products is gaining favour, of which wool obviously fits very well into," she said.
This story is part of a special print and digital series. Ag Influencers is a new publication that aims to highlight the many people making an impact in agriculture across Australia. This special liftout will be inserted into all ACM Ag publications on May 26.
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