For more than a decade, SA's Merino ram sale averages have been on an upward trajectory, but studstock agents are forecasting prices to remain steady on 2021's sensational season when sales kick off later this month.
Near full clearances were the norm last year, but they are could be even stronger this year and a few more numbers added to some sales as rebuilding continues in the pastoral areas.
Nutrien SA stud stock manager Gordon Wood says he is always careful about being too bullish in his predictions, but expects similar averages, although some sales could have another 10-15 per cent lift in them.
"There are some global challenges this year and the wool market has had its ups and downs, but prices for surplus sheep, lamb and mutton remain very solid and we are well positioned around the world with our clean, green image," he said.
Even at 2021 levels where plenty of sales averaged $2500-$3000, ram purchases still represent a good return on investment, Mr Wood said.
"There are very few other species where you can see the massive speed of genetic change in two to three years like you can with sheep, it could take nearly 10 years to make the same gains in cattle," he said.
He noted that the sheep industry was experiencing the biggest swing away from "traditional thinking" of running sheep that he had seen in his career.
"On the back of some real challenges with shearers and shed staff, the demand is huge for shedding sheep, it remains to be seen where this will go," he said.
Mr Wood expects those with self-replacing Merino flocks will again chase rams with high growth and fertility, but also respond to price signals in the wool market.
"If you look at the wool market, 17 micron wool is double or more the price than 20M wool, so using ASBVs and performance data sheep producers can find rams to really reduce their micron, while also having that growth and more lambs on the ground," he said.
Elders SA stud stock manager Tony Wetherall anticipates commercial ram buyers will stick to their 2021 budgets, but it was likely more rams would be sold in 2022 as demand strengthens from pastoral SA and western NSW.
"There are a lot of on-farm expenses so I don't think we will see budgets pushed to pay another $500 for rams, but commercial breeders do have some very good sheep and to maintain that quality will want to get the best rams they can," he said.
"The industry is still in good shape as far as selling breeding ewes and lambs."
He says commercial and stud breeders are focused on dual-purpose Merinos with "plenty of wool and meat", but also want sires which are "not too complicated with a good long staple and stylish, white wool".
"The challenge for studs is to get as many as they can in their stud offering that meet this," he said.
Mr Wetherall says those Merino studs which have formally ceased mulesing could see an uptick in demand as commercial breeders seek to access the premiums being offered by the Responsible Wool Standards certification program.
Quality Livestock auctioneer David Whittenbury also expected Merino ram sales to be "around the same mark" as 2021, with the well-marketed stud programs with a strong presence on social media potentially having another small lift.
"The COVID period has created a new normal and we are seeing a change in how producers go about their business. If the sale is on AuctionsPlus, it creates interest from further afield," he said.
Another big change he has noticed in recent years had been the push to buyers pairing their visual appraisal with objective measurement.
"The wool types that are more commercially relevant are really selling well, it is coming down to dollars per hectare, not just dollars per head."
Wirrulla Poll Merino stud Pimbena will hold one of the first sales for the season on July 27.
Stud principal Leslie Hamence will be "very happy if he can get somewhere near" last year's $1974 average.
"We are probably above average (season wise), but there are lots of other areas around us that are well above, but at the same time we have seen expenses go so high," he said.
"Everything is still relatively positive, the wool market is going sideways at the moment, but is still holding up well and sheep and lambs are still going really well."
Mr Hamence says the Merino is a profitable animal offering a dual income of meat and wool, but says it is a concern hearing that some commercial Merino breeders are moving into shedding breeds.
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