Wool cheques may be well down on last year as the market suffers from the COVID-19 pandemic but Merino breeders faith in the future of fibre and meat has remained.
This confidence has seen many studs eclipse their 2019 on-property ram sale averages and post close to total clearances.
Nutrien SA stud stock manager Gordon Wood says the season has surpassed his early expectations when the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was unknown.
"I always try and be positive leading into these sales, but the early predictions had me really worried about border closures and restrictions and where we were going to be in September," he said.
"At the time, we were leaning on the fact that stud sales and livestock sales were essential events and while we haven't got to October yet, it is looking like we are coming out of the depths of COVID-19 in Australia."
Mr Wood said breeders had seen past the drop in the wool market, which he put mostly down to COVID-19, and were funding their ram purchases from previous good years.
"We have seen very good returns for producers for more than a decade now and people can foresee a strong future in sheep and wool in Australia," he said.
Mr Wood said buyers had kept front of mind the importance of Merino ewes for lamb production.
"While the Merino is a wool-producing animal, it is also the basis for the crossbred ewe," he said.
Significant August, rainfall across much of the agricultural areas had also proved a saviour in boosting seasonal confidence after a dry July.
On Tuesday, Leahcim Poll Merino stud, Snowtown, showed why they are among the industry pace-setters, with a full clearance of 250 rams topping at $26,000 and the average lifting by $269 on 2019 to $2688.
Stud principal Andrew Michael said pre-sale interest was the "best that they had seen" and was pleased to see bidding sustained throughout the sale, with a huge crowd and 111 registered bidders on AuctionsPlus.
"People were really serious, with 100 per cent of them buying on Australian Sheep Breeding Values, which is great to see," he said.
"Our clients have a really strong understanding of high value wool and meat and when the (woollen) mills come out the other side they are well-placed because 100pc (of our clients' flocks) are unmulesed or heading to unmulesed.
"I am convinced wool and meat has a great future, but it has to have that traceability - since COVID-19 I have never been more sure of the need for good animal welfare and ethical production.
Mr Michael said his only pre-sale concern had been the potential impact of COVID-19. But these worries were unfounded, with their interstate clients viewing the comprehensive data and putting trust in them to fill their orders.
"We had orders for 150 rams and one order was 70 rams short," he said.
Last month, Peter Wallis, Glenlea Park Poll Merinos, Pinnaroo, sold 163 rams to $20,000 at his on-property sale, averaging $2954.
The result was the best the stud has experienced, with an average increase of more than $700 on the previous year and a full clearance.
He said taking into consideration the failing wool market and COVID-19 pandemic, stud producers have been pleasantly surprised at their on-property sale results.
According to Mr Wallis, many breeders have catalogued more rams up for sale and even though in percentage terms their clearance rate is not as high as last year, they have actually sold more rams.
"Clearance rates, up until this stage of the selling season, have been very good," he said.
"Most sales are on par clearance-wise with last year and I'd say most averages are very comparable to last year."
Mr Wallis said graziers who run a joint Merino/crossbred operation are now turning to breeding their own ewes as a more sustainable option.
"In the past they might have bought in an element of crossbred breeding ewes, but now they are considering the potential shortage of ewes and what it would cost to do that," he said.
"So they see breeding their own replacements as a long-term, more sustainable option.
"The season is not over yet, but everyone is surprised as to how well it has gone. It is really positive given the current situation."
It is not just SA where ram sales are running hot, with Nutrien Ag Solutions stud stock agent Rick Power saying NSW sheep producers are in "the time is now" mode.
"After western NSW and Riverina areas secured a lot of ewes from the west, plus off the back of one of the best seasons we have seen in years, they are already three-quarters restocked," he said.
"So the time is now. Those that have brought ewes are joining and breeding again."
Mr Power says along with regular faces, new buyers are appearing at sales, and by the result of the averages, they are fully aware of what they have to pay.
He said feedback from the producers is most of them are in the game to start breeding Merino ewes again.
"I think the message has finally got through," he said.
"It is not sustainable after the drought to be paying $300-plus for ewe hoggets in the spring, but it is quite easy to go and buy rams and start breeding sheep again."
Mr Power said Merino sales are on-par or slightly above last year's averages and clearance rates were slightly better thus far, averaging $150 to $200 more.
Ian Griffiths, Brundanella Merino and Poll Merino stud, Victoria Park, Grenfell, NSW, said he had three to four new clients and more registrations than ever before at his on-property ram sale last week.
He successfully sold 98pc of his rams - 67 at an average of $2086 - their "best ever" result.
He said compared to last year's result the clearance rate of 98pc this year outdid last year's 86pc.
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