THE show will go on for the Adelaide Stud Merino and Poll Merino Ram Sale in the stud sheep pavilion at Wayville later today, but the atmosphere may not live up to the fanfare of the larger auctions of yesteryear.
The sale is touted as one of the world's most successful multi-vendor Merino and Poll Merino sales and has been held annually at Wayville since 1947.
It has a long, rich history where SA studs produced a number of world-record priced rams, particularly in the 1980s.
It is among a number of events still being run despite the Royal Adelaide Show cancellation due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Elders stud stock's Tony Wetherall said the sale will be very much run the same, with about 70 rams being offered by 21 studs from across SA and a few from Vic, but there will be a notable absence of show crowd and interstate buyers in attendance.
This will be replaced by the sale being interfaced with AuctionsPlus for the first time and because of COVID-19 border restrictions, some of the rams will be presented online only.
"It's not ideal, but it's the environment COVID-19 has dealt us," he said.
It will be a far cry from the jam-packed sheep pavilion Mr Wetherall faced when he sold the $450,000 world record-breaking Merino ram from Collinsville stud at the Adelaide sale in 1989.
"The whole pavilion was abuzz, jam-packed from one end to the other," he said.
"But when we started selling the Collinsville rams, the whole place went silent.
"We broke the record multiple times that sale. Another Collinsville ram sold for $360,000 earlier in the sale, while a Moorundie Park ram also made $102,000.
"But when that $450,000 world-record ram was about to get knocked down, you could have heard a pin drop. It was incredible."
I did have a little trouble that first sale saying Ecclefechan correctly - it wasn't ideal.- TONY WETHERALL
Mr Wetherall was only relatively new in the job, with his first Adelaide Merino ram sale in 1986.
"Getting up in front of that crowd for the first time was pretty daunting," he said.
"I remember there was a lot of Moorundie Park A15 progeny that were sold by Barton Hill, Nyowee, Moorundie, and Ecclefechan - and they sold extremely well.
"But I did have a little trouble that first sale saying Ecclefechan correctly - it wasn't ideal."
The $450,000 all-time record price (valued at $967,890 today) was paid for J.C and S Lustre 53 sold by Neil Garnett, who had bought the Collinsville stud from the Collins family in 1985.
The ram was bought by Richard Nitschke, from the now dispersed Willogoleche Merino stud, Hallett, who was no stranger to paying high prices for Collinsville-bred rams to use in the stud founded by his father in 1955.
Mr Nitschke also outlaid $215,000 ($533,100 today) for J.C and S 14, named 'Bicentenary 88' at the 1987 Adelaide ram sale.
Mr Garnett also sold a Poll Merino ram for $110,000 at the 1987 sale and then in 1989, a three-quarter share in J.C and S 20 valued at $360,000 ($774,311) was paid by a South African stud consortium at Adelaide.
Mr Wetherall, who has since auctioneered 23 Adelaide ram sales, said the industry and the sale has changed dramatically since then.
"When I first started, the old pavilion was filled with two-year-old full wool rams," he said.
"It was the way studs and commercial guys wanted to buy their rams back then.
"Today, the rams are much younger, and it makes more commercial sense for everyone."
Nutrien stud stock's Leo Redden agreed, saying the move to short wools was driven by industry efficiency.
"Today's sales are much more market driven, rams with soft handling, easy spinning wool," he said.
"In the early days, there was a bit of resistance from the stud sire perspective, but then the cost of running a long wool sheep through to present them got too expensive.
"It helped that the commercial buyers were very supportive of short wools being offered at Adelaide, and now it's the norm."
Mr Redden said he first started as a trainee with Elders in 1989, holding rams for that remarkable sale.
He has since been involved in 20 Adelaide ram sales, as auctioneer for 18 in a green shirt.
Mr Redden said he was the first to sell a short wool hogget in the sale - Nyowee 430 at $10,000.
"That was a big deal at the time as it was a short wool and the first to make $10,000," he said.
"That ram went on to become a really significant impact sire over lot of poll sheep.
"In my first year, rams being offered were 25-26 micron and 92-94 per cent comfort factor.
"Today that style of ram wouldn't be accepted in a mini auction at a ram sale.
"Today, it's all 18-21M and 99pc-plus CF.
"It has been incredible the change in breeding over only a few generations, but we're still breeding equally heavy cutting sheep that are faster growing."
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There was once quite the rivalry between Elders and Dalgety Bennetts (now Nutrien) when the agencies were separated in two sheds.
This was back when Elders was selling more than 300 rams and Dalgetys was around the 250 head.
Now they are all in the one shed as a combined sale.
"Back then a lot more were offered because there were very few on-property sales," Mr Wetherall said.
"We also had very strong demand from China and Russia, who were only allowed to buy export rams out of national auctions, which was Naracoorte, Tumby Bay and Adelaide in SA.
"Often they wouldn't be at the same sale, but I remember one year in the late 1980s they were both at Adelaide. Let's just say there was a fair bit of animosity and animation in the bidding."
Fellow Elders stalwart Tom Penna, who has been auctioneering at Adelaide since 1983, recalled another international record-breaking year of his own, one he had a hand in.
"It was 1986 and I was only very new to the stud stock game but there was a lot of confidence in the 1980s before the 1990s wool crash," he said.
"There was world-wide demand for Australian semen and wool was Australia's number one export.
"Prior to the sale, I had taken a group of Argentinians on a trip around the Mid North and they wanted to buy a lot of rams for moderate prices.
"But when we got to Collinsville, one of the richest men in Argentina decided he wanted one certain ram - one being offered at Adelaide.
"Now I was aware that the previous world record price had been $79,000 for a Collinsville ram.
"So on the way back home, when he asked me what he needed to pay for that ram, as a young auctioneer, keen to break the world record, I told him $80,000.
"Come sale day, there was about 2000 people in the pavilion, shoulder to shoulder, and the media was hectic.
There was a feeling that day we were going to break the record.- TOM PENNA
"There was a feeling that day we were going to break the record. There had been a huge build up.
"When I started in the industry in 1974 - the record was only $27,000. Then through the years it went to $45,000, then $52,000, then $63,000, and then $79,000.
"So there was a bit of excitement about when I got up on the rail in 1986 in front of a great ocean of people.
"There was big bloke from North America in the crowd and my Argentinian - and away the bidding went.
"It was a big deal at the time to have a bid at the sale, and I was told not to start high, so I began at $10,000 and those first bids were like a frenzy.
"We got to $50,000 real quick and then it slowed, becoming a duel between the two internationals.
"When the big American made a bold bid of $100,000 - you could hear a pin drop - it was quite a moment.
"But then the Argentinian went $102,000 and the big American shook his head. It was over."
Lucrative international interest in the sale disappeared in the 1990s, with demand only reappearing from Argentina and South Africa in recent years.
Mr Redden said one of the more memorable sales he was part of was the battle over influential sire Moorundie Park 306 'Kelvinator' in 2014, which made $53,000.
"That sale signified a market move back into a more profitable stage," he said.
"Top stud sires were starting to realise good prices again after a slow emergence from the wool crash and the building of the floor price."
Last year, it was again all Australian money forking out big for an outstanding, 119.5-kilogram March-shorn Poll Merino called 'Smithy' from Glenlea Park stud, Pinnaroo.
It was the best money seen at the prestigious multi-vendor sale since the 80s, and the highest price paid for a Merino ram across Australia in 2019.
The 20.8-micron ram offered by Peter and Marianne Wallis was sired by GP881 and was a grandson of Moorundie Park 306 'Kelvinator'.
'Smithy' was named after the Australian cricketer Steve Smith, who also cracked a ton the week prior.
Mr Wallis described the ram as the best he had ever bred.
The price helped the stud to more than double their 2018 ram sale average, with five rams averaging $34,200.
Collinsville topped the 2019 averages for the second consecutive year, with vendors George and Sophie Millington selling five rams, averaging $35,300.
Mr Penna said Collinsville had been breaking world records since the 1940s.
"At one stage their genetics influenced 30 per cent of the Merino industry, they'd sell 4000 rams a year," he said.
"They were known all around country and the world and everyone came to Adelaide to compete on the big four-tooth, full wool, horned Merino rams from Collinsville."
Mr Penna said that is what he will miss most this year, is that atmosphere.
"That atmosphere at Adelaide when you know something is going to happen, there is no other minutes like it in the Merino industry," he said.
Mr Penna hung up his Adelaide auctioneering boots about three years ago, after calling the sale about 15 times.
Mr Redden said Adelaide had really become the Merino capital of the world again, particularly in the eyes of interstate buyers.
"Hopefully this year's sale being interfaced with AuctionsPlus will see that happen again," he said.
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