TO MANY in the agriculture sector, alpacas have been perceived predominantly as a "backyard industry", but that may be about to change.
Thanks to the work of groups like NSW-based organisation, Waratah Co-Op, demand for alpaca fleece has begun to accelerate, the industry having recently landed its biggest export order to date for 120,000 to 150,000 kilograms to go to China.
The co-op, which was formed in 2018 with about 50 foundation members, is now working on filling this new order, says Waratah Co-op foundation member Mick Williams, Coolawarra and Storybook Alpacas, Mittagong.
"As we were in formation, we had some inquires from China and they actually flew out to have a look at some fibre," Mr Williams said.
"I thought they'd only want a small 2kg bag, but instead they asked for 100kg of each, which wasn't so much a sample as it was a small order.
"Two weeks after that, we got our first container order from them and that was for every colour and every specification of fibre you could get.
"Now just under two years on from that first sample and container order, we have sent six or seven containers over there."
The fleece is graded using the Australian Wool Exchange (AWEX) system, with the latest order being prepared for use in garments and bedding.
"We've got 30,000kg ready to go over to China... that is part of the minimum of 120,000kg to a maximum of 150,000kg of fibre China ordered for the year," Mr Williams said.
"If we can exceed that, they will gladly take it, because it is becoming more professional all the time as we go along.
"If they now get 10 tonne of 20.6- to 24.5-micron (fleece) they will do a processing run and all of it will go to garments, but at the same time, they will take 5t of 28.6- to 26.6-micron onward for quilting and bedding."
Mr Williams said the organisation would be seeking help from interstate to get the order out by the end of the year.
"They [China] are a dream customer for us because they just take raw fibre, meaning we don't process anything," he said.
"Everything is evolving from where we first started the co-op with about 50 NSW-based breeders to now having classing depots in Victoria, NSW and South Australia.
"We will buy from anyone who breeds alpacas, it's just our members that will receive a premium price and it is growing all the time."
As well as creating a lucrative market for producers, Mr Williams said the trade agreement was also helping to change the alpaca industry from an animal showing industry to a fibre industry, he said.
Australian Alpaca Association chief executive officer, Amanda Olthof, echoed Mr Williams' sentiments, saying the work of co-ops was helping more people see the potential of the industry.
"There is only a couple of co-ops operating within the alpaca fibre industry because most of the people cutting fibre are quite small, especially compared to say the sheep industry," Ms Olthof said.
"As a result of that, people have got to work together and the co-ops are the perfect way of doing that.
"Now there are people exporting alpaca fleece not just to China, but to places like India and Canada as well, which is great."
- courtesy The Land, NSW.
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