Image by Rosie Fraser

Wool scour's resurrection could help transform Australian merino production


Blackall in western Queensland has a population of fewer than 1,500 people, but the little town is positioning itself as the big solution to Australia's wool industry woes.


The local council wants a new wool scour built to manage the entire wool handling process locally — from fleece to fabric — rather than sending it overseas. It could provide a long-term fix to the problems posed by China's suspension on importations of a range of Australian commodities, including beef, barley, wine, and wool.



Australia is the world's largest greasy wool producer. According to the International Wool Textile Organisation it produced more than 368,000 tonnes, or 18 per cent of the world's wool, in 2019.


China is the world's largest wool importer, taking in 49 per cent of global greasy wool and 39 per cent of clean wool in 2018.


The mayor of Blackall-Tambo Regional Council, Andrew Martin, said trade tensions with China strengthened the merits for an end-to-end processing facility to be built locally.


"It's going to leave a whopping big hole in the wool market and the wool industry if China suddenly bans [importations] of wool from Australia," Cr Martin said.



"It's not a slight on China. It's a slight on us.

Cr Martin.


"Most wool growers just shake their heads … when we talk about putting the whole clip on a boat going somewhere."



Key points:

  • A $198 million wool processing and handling facility is proposed for Blackall in central west Queensland

  • The facility would see wool go from fleece to fabric in Australia, rather than relying on overseas processors

  • It's estimated it would generate $116.3 million in gross regional product annually


Facility could double the number of jobs

A feasibility study into the viability of the facility was commissioned by the council and conducted by economic consultants AEC.


The report, released last month, showed the construction of the proposed $198 million facility would create 88 full-time jobs.


Once operational, 812 full-time employees would likely be required, including 270 locally, and it would generate $116.3 million in gross regional product per year.


AEC senior economist Jonathan Pavetto, who conducted the study, said the scour would "quite literally [double] the number of jobs in Blackall".


"When you add this level of economic activity that's proposed to the economy, everything just goes gangbusters,"

Jonathan Pavetto




The Blackall facility could see the entire process, from fleece to fabric, take place in the small outback town.(Supplied: International Wool Textile Organisation)



Cr Martin said it would see the town swell to double its size and indirectly lead to a boost in other industries.

"It's a traditional multiplier effect for anything to do with wool," he said.


"For every dollar a wool grower makes … in this particular instance, it creates four [dollars] in the immediate community.

"It makes pure, perfect economic sense."


Cr Martin said it would see the town swell to double its size and indirectly lead to a boost in other industries.

"It's a traditional multiplier effect for anything to do with wool," he said.

"For every dollar a wool grower makes … in this particular instance, it creates four [dollars] in the immediate community.


"It makes pure, perfect economic sense."

Cr Martin


Mr Pavetto said advancements in technology meant Australia would be able to compete with the lower costs offered by Chinese processors.

"They became the dominant player because they did have a lot of competitive advantages in terms of cost and environmental control — very low cost and no environmental control,"



But he said energy-efficient, labour-efficient machinery was now available in Australia.

Mr Keogh acknowledged it could be hard to get both graziers and customers on board with the idea of using a local scour, rather than outsourcing processing to foreign facilities.

"A lot of people won't want that to change," he said.


"You're actually breaking the model that has been around for a long time and that won't be easy."


But Cr Martin, a sheep grazier himself, said he was confident Blackall could see a return of a rich wool industry.


"Where there's a wool there's a way,"


The council will now start looking for a project proponent to entice commercial investors and undertake a full financial feasibility study.


"[We are getting] prepared for a long, hard slog promoting it," Cr Martin said.

"If I didn't think it was possible, I wouldn't have started the process."

Original Article written by:

8th December 2020 - updated

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-12-08/is-blackall-wool-scour-a-solution-to-china-trade-woes/12949920

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