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March 2024 Newsletter Blog: It’s Not Easy Farming - Especially When Growing Wool!


It is a hot windy afternoon as I sit down to write this blog for WoolProducers. My name is Bradley Venning, I am a farmer from Wester Victoria and I have been nominated to the WoolProducers Board by VFF. I am involved in a second-generation family partnership with my wife and our three boys, my brother and his wife and their two daughters, while our dad and mum still help out when they can. We run a self-replacing superfine merino flock, retaining the weathers as wool cutters, and a small cropping operation, utilising sub-soil manuring and sub-surface drainage to overcome the waterlogging in our high winter dominant rainfall shallow soils.

 

My first contact with WoolProducers was through the Animal Health and Welfare committee, on which I represented the Australian Superfine Wool Growers Association for a number of years. This gave me a small insight into what WoolProducers does for wool growers around Australia. But in my first few months on the Board, I can see that there is a lot more going on behind the scenes to protect woolgrowers interests and to drive our profitability.

 

I am not usually in the office at 3pm, but today the temperature is at 39, with low relative humidity, and winds gusting to nearly 80kmh, with dry lightning forecast. Sheep need to be camped on a shady sheep camp with cool clean water and we need to be ready if any fires start to put them out to protect or sheep and assets, as most farmers are the local fire fighters.

 

We as farmers care for our sheep, because without them in good health they will not produce the wool we need to make an income, or a prime lamb that is saleable without costly grain feeding. We use pain relief when needed, crutch our sheep to prevent flies and breed a sheep that maintains soft, stylish, white wool in high rainfall events. Supplements are fed to the sheep when the grass does not provide enough protein or fibre at certain times of the year.

 

Is all of this enough to say we produce a product that is ethical and sustainable? Many “quality” schemes say no, and carbon/methane, biodiversity and natural capital appear to be the next big things, all of which increase our costs of production. 

 

The prices that we are receiving for our wool at the moment will not cover our cost of production, and unless we can reduce our cost of production or increase the prices we receive substantially, merino wool production will continue to fall. The prices we are receiving for our wool and meat have not kept pace in the last few years with the increased cost of production. The prices paid for 17 micron wool this week are not much higher than when I left school in the late 80’s.

 

On a different note relating to some on-farm innovations, for the last ten years or so, we have been researching and developing a machine to deliver 20 tonne to the hectare of animal manures to 600-700mm into our clay sub soil to improve our soil, drainage and root development in our crops and pastures. Last year we added subsoil drainage pipes to the system with good success. Sadly, wool may in the longer term end up our secondary business, not our primary one, as it has been for 56 years.


Bradley Venning

WoolProducers Australia Director

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