Merino wool categories – micron and price


One of the consequences of extreme micron premiums and discounts is the inversion of price relativities for the different wool categories which make up a fleece. This article looks at these price relativities over the past 22 years.

The different components of a fleece (the main fleece itself, pieces, bellies, locks and the various permutations of these lines) have different physical attributes which impact their processing potential, which is why they are separated for sale. The most obvious characteristics that differ are staple length, vegetable fault, yield and fibre diameter. All things being equal fleece is more valuable than pieces which are more valuable than bellies which in turn are more valuable than the cardings, locks and crutchings.

As noted above, between categories within a fleece all is not equal. Table 1 shows the median difference in the Australian merino clip between wool categories for the past decade. The upper row shows the category micron difference to the overall merino clip average fibre diameter, while the lower line re-sets the differences to the fleece category. Table 1 shows that pieces are generally 1.2 microns finer than fleece while bellies are 0.58 microns finer, locks are nearly a micron finer and crutchings have the same fibre diameter as fleece.

To put this into practice Figure 1 shows an eastern price series for 18.2 micron merino fleece and 17.2 micron merino prices (the gap between the fleece and pieces was narrowed to one micron by the inclusion of weaner fleece with the adult fleece) running from mid-2000 to May 2022. In addition the difference in price between the two series is shown in the lower section of the graph.

For the 22 year period the median price difference between the fleece and pieces series has been 125 cents per clean kg (about 10% in price). During this period the finer pieces price has been higher than the fleece price for 12% of the time during three separate periods, namely in 1999-2001, briefly in 2017 and for a longer period, since early 2021.

The article earlier this week which looked at fine micron carding prices noted the marked increase in finer micron prices. This recent increase in micron premiums also has had an effect on the relative price for locks and bellies from a fleece, with locks occasionally trading at higher levels through 2021, keeping in mind locks tend to be 0.4 micron finer than bellies.

What does it mean?

The challenge to interpreting market signals is to discern between the transient and the structural. Higher prices for your pieces than your fleece is a cyclical phenomenon which we have seen before in the market. It reinforces the need to ensure adequate care is taken in the preparation and packaging of the minor categories of wool as they are valuable.

Have any questions or comments?

We love to hear from you!

Print This Post

Key Points

  • The 1 to 1.2 micron difference in fibre diameter between pieces and fleece within a sheep’s fleece makes the prices line relatively more valuable at present.
  • This inversion in per kg value is a function of the steep micron premiums and discounts operating in the greasy wool market which is a cyclical phenomenon rather than a structural change.

Click on figure to expand

Click on figure to expand

Data sources:  AWEX, ICS, Mecardo

Make decisions with confidence- ask about our board packs, bespoke forecasting and risk management services

Have any questions or comments?

We love to hear from you!

Update on RWS premiums

The greasy wool industry tends to think of quality effects on price as additive, somewhat like building a “lego price model” – add for good

Read More »

Want market insights delivered straight to your inbox?

Sign up to the mailing list to get regular updates to new analysis and market outlooks

Independent analysis and outlook for wool, livestock and grain markets delivered to you as it’s published

Commodity conversations podcast cover image, a illustration of a sheep standing on a cow's back with grain either side
Listen to the podcast

Join the Mecardo team for the Commodity Conversations podcast, where we provide short weekly market recaps and longer conversations with guests to discuss the drivers and trends in livestock, grain and fibre markets.

Photo of a farmer surrounded by Merino sheep in dusty yards
Research: Analysis of the Australian sheep flock

In this report for LiveCorp and MLA, we analysed the historical trends in the demographics of the Australian sheep flock, examining domestic factors that influence farm-level enterprise decision making. 

Image of harvested grain pouring into a chaser bin

We don’t just bring you the most up to date market insights. Find out more about Mecardo’s services including risk management advisory, modelling, benchmarking, research & consultancy.