There is a range of staple lengths (a distribution) in the Australian Merino clip which is sold to the supply chain for a range of end uses. As wool is a natural product with all the variability around longer term average specifications that this entails, processing machines are designed to match the inherent average distributions of raw wool in terms of fiber diameter, fiber length , fiber resistance, vegetable matter, etc. So when the distribution of a particular attribute varies from its normal range, such as fiber diameter, there will be a shortage of supply on one side of the distribution and an excess on the other.
Schneider recently commented in a report (see here) that the merino dart was noticeably longer this season, which is a problem for them because they don’t favor long-fiber wool. Figure 1 shows the distribution of staple fiber length for merino wool sold from December to February during this season and the previous two seasons. For the merino clip as a whole, 95mm (90-100mm) is the largest category, accounting for 23-24% of sales volume in pure terms. Note how the proportion of 65-85mm wool fell significantly in 2020-21 and remained low in 2021-22 compared to 2019-20. At the same time, the proportion of 105 mm and above has increased significantly.
The change from early 2002 to 2021 in Figure 1 is explained by the shift from dry to seasonally good conditions in many eastern wool growing regions, with continued good conditions in many areas in 2021-2, a marked improvement in Western Australia and of course continued issues with sheep shearing are keeping the distribution going this season. This is the change that G. Schneider was commenting on, although the focus is on the thinner side of the 19 micron rather than the entire clip.
What do these changes look like by micron class and over time? Figure 2 shows the proportion of combing length wool that had a wool fiber length of 106 to 125 mm long for the period December to February, by season from the mid-1990s, for 17 and 18 microns . While the proportions remain low, the proportion of 18 micron wool that is 110-120 mm long has tripled over the past two seasons. There was an increase of 110-120mm in length 17 microns but nowhere near as dramatic.
Figure 3 repeats the exercise for 19 to 21 micron merino wool. For these micron categories, the proportion of overlength wool has practically doubled over the last two seasons.
This brief overview of fiber length confirms what G. Schneider said. Mecardo will be looking for a pricing effect of this change in staple length supply next week.