AS A bloke in the wool industry - albeit a step out of the paddock - Tony Gilchrist can well relate to the tight times facing rural people.
The Warwick-based wool buyer has been in the game for decades and despite the good seasons, believes many landholders are now juggling budgets which are stricter than ever.
"We've seen a move away from merinos across the Southern Downs and beyond, which has been driven largely by wool price," Mr Gilchrist said.
"We have also seen more and more people venturing into cross breeds and meat sheep to meet the market."
From a wool buyer's perspective that translated to a reduction in fine wool coming in and an increase in the less versatile, but still saleable, crossbred wool.
"We are definitely seeing more wool from dorpers or dorset base flocks, which is suited to the insulation-type market," Mr Gilchrist said.
"I am still buying some exceptional quality fine wool.
"Recently I bought some super fine 16 micron merino wool, which sold in excess of 1000c/kg so there is more variety, in terms of wool type, than ever before.
"But what hasn't changed is that regardless of wool type, it is still costing producers around $3 a head to shear."
Mr Gilchrist said even established wool growers were working hard to reduce labour costs, especially during shearing.
"We have established blokes trying to reduce costs by reducing the number of people they employ in the shed," he said.
"Sometimes this means doing their own wool classing, other times they might not even class it on property at all.
"Others have downsized their wool operation, so they don't have as much time to spend in the shed preparing their wool as they once did.
"We also have landholders, who have just ventured into the sheep industry, usually in a meat production way, and they are often inexperienced or have little knowledge of wool classing."
To help producers in these scenarios Mr Gilchrist said he bought wool "as is, unskirted and unclassed" direct from sheds.
He said despite the changes to the industry at grassroots level, most of the wool he bought was still sold through the Sydney auction system, although he did have some direct contracts for crossbred type.
"The wool market might not be the highest it has been at the moment, but in the inter
mediate term I do think we will see the market pick up," Mr Gilchrist said.
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