Merino fleece dark fibre risk rating

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A premium Mecardo subscriber has asked whether there is any difference in price between Merino fleece with a Dark and Medullated Fibre Risk Scheme (DMFR) ratings of 1 and 2. As a primer, this article looks at the supply of Merino fleece of different DMFR ratings.

The background to the DMFR scheme is covered in the Review of the Dark & Medullated Fibre Risk Scheme as it relates to Shearing Interval (Hansford & Swan 2020). Figure 1 outlines how the risk scheme works for Merino fleece and pieces. Ratings 1 and 2 are deemed to be suitable to all end uses including whites and pastels. A rating of 3 to 5 implies a much higher risk of dark fibres present in the greasy wool, and a rating of 6 indicates the wool may contain medullated fibres. Information for the development of a DMFR rating is taken from the National Wool Declaration (NWD).

So what proportion of the Merino fleece sold has a DMFR rating? Table 1 shows the proportion of Merino fleece (with vegetable matter of 7% and less) sold in the 10 months to April 2021, broken up by staple length and the three DMFR ratings which had significant volumes in them. In summary, 64% of Merino fleece sold had a rating of 1, 2 or 4 with rating 1 having the largest proportion of 35%. Some 20% of Merino fleece sold had a rating of 2 (crutched more than three months before shearing) and 9% had a rating of 4 (not crutched).

Within the different ratings, the proportion of different staple length wool varied greatly. For ratings 1 and 2, the proportion of fleece sold increased as the staple length increased.  This seems straight forward – the longer the fleece the more likely the sheep will be crutched. For DMFR 4 (not crutched) the reverse relationship applies, with the proportion uncrutched rising as the staple strength becomes shorter. Again, this makes sense as one of the advantages of shearing at shorter time intervals is the elimination of crutching.

Figure 2 breaks up the DMFR 4 (uncrutched Merino fleece) data further by micron category. It shows the proportion of shorter staple length fleece (in this case 62 and 67 mm greasy staple length) rising steadily as fibre diameter increases. Figure 2 shows that some 35-50% of short broad Merino fleece is uncrutched.  In April 2020 Mecardo looked at the rising trend in short staple length broad Merino wool in recent years (view here), and it will be this wool which is accounting for the high proportion of DMFR 4 short length wool.

The increase in supply of short staple length wool raises a question about the DMFR scheme as Hansford and Swan pointed out in their review. It would seem that quite a proportion of the short DMFR 4 wool should be really rated as DMFR 2, as the scheme originally did not take into account the time of shearing interval, assuming a 12-month interval as the default.

What does it mean?

The idea of the DMFR is excellent as it seeks to apply on-farm information to downstream processing risk (the risk of dark fibres). In their review, Hansford and Swan point out that on-farm practices have changed (the increase in shorter interval shearing) enough to warrant an update of the DMFR. The high proportion of short staple uncrutched fleece seems to support this view as it is rated as DMFR 4, when it is highly likely a rating of DMFR 2 would be appropriate.

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Key Points

  • The DMFR ratings 1 and 2 were originally meant to flag fleece wool suitable for end uses which required white and pastel shades. Some 55% of Merino fleece sold this season to April was ranked in these categories.
  • One third of Merino fleece sold did not have a DMFR rating, due to insufficient information.
  • Short staple fleece, shorn at shorter intervals, which has not been crutched looks to be penalised in the ratings.

Click on figure to expand

Click on figure to expand

Click on figure to expand

Data sources: AWEX, ICS , Mecardo

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