The rise and rise of the price of wool is seeing the nation’s farmers scrambling to rebuild their flocks.
It has been a rollercoaster ride over the past 30 years, but the future of wool is looking bright with international buyers once again looking to buy Australian wool.
In Western Australia’s remote Nullarbor pastoral region, 365km east of Kalgoorlie, Ross and Jo Wood have returned to Rawlinna station to shear 65,000 sheep.
They retired at a time when wool prices were low, but fate intervened when a manager for Western Australia’s largest sheep station couldn’t be found.
They’ve found themselves back in the swing of things and it’s a good time to be back!
Rawlinna station manager Ross Wood stands in a paddock between the homestead and depot where shearing is taking place (ABC Rural; Tara De Landgrafft)
Wool prices are the highest they’ve been in history.
It’s a nice change for the wool growers who battled through years of low prices. They’re now able to reap a long-awaited bonanza.
Compared to this time last year the price of medium micron wool has gone up 25 per cent, and sheep themselves are also fetching good money.
Rawlinna’s 1,500 bale clip is estimated to fetch more than $3 million.
Australia’s biggest pastoral shearing station
Mr Wood said shearing will take two months to complete, with 7,500 sheep being moved each day.
“We’ve got to have 2,500 moving in, we are moving 2,500 through the shed and we are taking 2,500 out,” he said.
“It’s a huge operation to be moving sheep around on the scale.
We shear about 60,000 sheep here and over 12,500 thousand square kilometres of country, so it’s quite a big business to deal with a property on that scale.
“Not only just the size but because the terrain is quite difficult to manoeuvre in then it brings a unique set of problems to it just physically getting everywhere in time and getting sheep in close enough to the shed.
It is Australia’s biggest pastoral shearing operation and it is hard work.
The exterior of one side of the two-storey shearing shed at Rawlinna station. (ABC Rural; Tara De Landgrafft)
There is a team of about 50 people in the sheds, yards, kitchens, paddocks and sky to get the job done.
A fixed-wing plane is used for spotting sheep and getting people into distant paddocks, the flexible and mobile R22 and R44 helicopters are being used for mustering, and a drone is used in the holding paddock laneways near the shearing shed.
Shearing team contractor George Wilson said he had no problem finding shearers, classers and wool pressers due to the iconic nature of the property.
A lot of people want to come to this shed because it’s now the biggest one now in the world,” Mr Wilson said.
“I have guys coming from as far as Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales. I fly my presser in from new Zealand every year,” he said.
With Australia tipped to produce 345,000 tonnes of wool this year alone, Mr Wilson anticipates that woolshed staff across the wider industry will soon become hard to find.
“The way that wool prices and sheep prices are, a lot of people are going to consider getting back into sheep or increasing their numbers.”
Bright future, more training
He would like to see more workers trained.
“TAFE has got to really pull its finger out. I think there’s a bit of a shortfall with TAFE in all the states.
“I really don’t think that they are pulling their weight. They should be looked at seriously or the training be given to another organisation,” said Mr Wilson.
“Training is the key.”
After battling through years of low prices, Ross Wood is optimistic about the future.
“At least now there’s a clear path on the productivity of wool.
Wool’s up, sheep prices are up, and there looks to be a bright future so that allows people to take the long-term frames of investment that are required.
“Now we can see pretty clearly that there will be 30 years of good times ahead for wool and that’s the sort of future that you need because with the infrastructure requirements for a property this size you are going to need 30 years to pay them all off.”
Dozens of wool bales stacked up outside the shearing shed at Rawlinna station. (ABC News: Mark Bennett)