Merino sheep in Tasmania

Following feedback from the article on North Queensland wool production, requests for more regional analysis of wool production were made to Mecardo. This article takes a preliminary look at Tasmanian wool production.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) surveys Australian agricultural production annually. ABS data has been used to build the first schematic shown in Figure 1. It shows the number of sheep, cattle (beef and dairy) and the crop area for Tasmania for the past three decades. Cattle numbers have been relatively steady, as has crop area (although it can be quite volatile year to year) and sheep numbers exhibit the declining trend from 1990 through to around 2010, which is common in most sheep regions. Sheep numbers have been stable during the past decade, although this does not tell us about changes between wool and prime lamb production.

In Figure 2 auction sales data is used to show Tasmanian wool production in clean terms (left-hand axis) and the proportion of Australian sales which this made up (right-hand axis). The volume of wool sales follows the trend seen in sheep numbers. It declined through to around 2010 and since then, has stabilised. The proportion of national wool sales accounted for by Tasmania (in clean terms) fell through to around 2010, reaching a low of 1.5%. Since then it has risen, to around 3%.

On the question of wool and prime lamb production, one way of looking at the effect of change in the two enterprises is to look at the proportion of Merino wool in the national clip. This is not a problem-free analysis as it does not control for shedding sheep or composite style sheep which are breeds with wool less than a by-product. Figure 3 shows the proportion of the wool sold at auction which is designated as Merino, from the mid-1990s, for the Australian clip as a whole and the Tasmanian clip.

 In the late 1990s, the Tasmanian clip had a higher proportion of Merino wool than the national clip. The overall level was high, given in the decades prior to the 1980s Merino wool tended to account for about 75% of the national wool clip.  Around 2009 the proportion of Merino wool in the Tasmanian clip fell below the national level, and continued to fall while at a national level the proportion steadied around 80% after 2010. The Tasmanian Merino proportion reached a low 66% in 2019 and 2020 and since has rebounded to around 76%. It still remains 5% below the national proportion of Merino wool.

The final Schematic in Figure 4 shows the annual national gross farm bale value of wool sold, the Tasmanian average and the Tasmanian Merino average gross bale value. The Tasmanian value is higher on both counts than the average Australian value, boosted by a lower Merino fibre diameter. As expected, the Tasmanian value follows the trends and cycles seen in the national wool clip.

What does it mean?

Tasmania has switched more sheep out of Merino wool production into prime lamb production, although this looks as though it might be steadying. In terms of the big trends seen in the sheep flock, Tasmania has followed the trends seen in other regions both in Australia and in other Southern Hemisphere sheep-producing nations.

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Key Points

  • Tasmanian sheep numbers have followed trends seen in other regions, falling to around a decade ago and then stabilising.
  • Tasmania has a higher proportion of non-Merino wool, which means more of the sheep flock has been switched into lamb production than seen on average in the Australian flock.
  • The average value of the Tasmanian clip is higher than the national average, due to quality characteristics which will be looked at in the next article.

Click on figure to expand

Click on figure to expand

Click on figure to expand

Data sources: ABS, ABARES, AWEX, ICS 

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