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AUSTRALIAN Merino breeders have plenty to smile about after what was seen and heard by participants on the Australian Association of Stud Merino Breeders (AASMB) a recent trade mission to Uruguay and Argentina. The visit to the two South American Merino breeding countries coincided with the 10th World Merino Conference held in April in Montevideo, Uruguay.

 

The AASMB, headed by President Georgina Wallace, Tasmania, led the official Australian delegation of some 77 people to Uruguay and 46 to Argentina. Other representatives from AASMB and the state Stud Merino associations were AASMB Vice President Peter Meyer, and AASMB CEO Sally Hicks; with Peter Rogers, Vice President of the Victorian Stud Merino Sheepbreeders’; Ian Michael, President of the South Australian Stud Merino Sheepbreeders’ Association and Bruce Dunbabin from Stud Merino Breeders’ Association of Tasmania.

More than 200 people involved in the Merino Industry attended the conference in Uruguay from across the globe including Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Lesotho, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, US, Russia, Hungary, Portugal, Falkland Islands. The theme of the conference was focused around the quality of global Merino production. There were a number of Australian speakers, including Peter Meyer, who presented at conference, alongside speakers from across the globe who spoke on the benefits and the future of the wool and Merino industry.

Also at the conference Will Roberts, past AASMB President, was elected the new President of the World Federation of Merino Breeders, replacing fellow Australian Tom Ashby, in the role.

The pre-conference tour of Uruguay was mainly in the Salto region in the countries north west corner, where the majority of sheep are run in Uruguay. The tour took in visits to five properties including four studs, a wool scouring and top-making plant, along with a show and sale, where Charlie Merriman of New South Wales, had the honour of judging. 

The studs visited included La Magdalena, Talitas and San Ramon all in the Salto region as well as the Santa Catalina stud, near Colonia in the south, with all focusing on fine wool production and the use of performance data.

The show and sale held during the tour was also a highlight for many. This event was originally set for one day but eventually ran into a second morning, with the sale taking place on the evening of the second day following visits to the Talitas and San Ramon studs. The major awards in the show went to the La Magdalena stud which exhibited both the supreme champion exhibit (a Merino ram) and the grand champion unshedded ram. In the sale these rams sold for the two top prices, the unhoused grand champion made $US12,200, to set a record price for a ram sold in Uruguay, while the supreme champion made $US5700.

The post conference tour of Argentina traversed the Patagonia region, starting in the north west at San Carlos Bariloch in the Rio Negro province, before travelling south along the east side of the snow capped Andes and into Chubut province to Esquel and Rio Pico before heading east to Comodora Rivadavia on the Atlantic coast. This tour showed just how robust and adaptable Merinos are. The harsh landscapes and climatic regions (both arid and semi-arid) travelled through on the trip highlighted this. As an example, at the Gonzalo family’s Rio Pico stud, which is nestled between the foothills of the Andes and the plains of the Chubut province, temperatures range from -30 degrees in winter to a peak of 32 degrees in summer. Snow falls in winter often reach depths of one metre and average rainfall varying from 300-500mm over the 30,000 hectare property.

During the four days in the Chubut province, the delegation visited seven studs - Leleque, Rio Pico, Tecka, Languna de Toro, Estancia Media Luna, San Jose and Manantiales studs. All are running large Merino flocks shearing from 15,000 up to 100,000 sheep and all have used Australian genetics, either through the purchase of rams, ewes, semen or embryos with good success.

In terms of the Merinos in both countries, Georgina Wallace, who led the official Australian delegation said: “The conference and tour really showed off the ability of the Merino to adapt and perform in a range of environments. We saw it running in areas receiving up to 1200mm rainfall in Uruguay and then down in Argentina we saw producers breeding them in areas receiving less than 200mm. “It was also great to see Australian genetics doing well in both countries. In Uruguay they are using sheep breeding values as their selection tool for breeding a fine woolled sheep. In Argentina, they are breeding a larger framed Merino in the 19-20 micron range. It was also amazing to see the sheer scale and size of the operations in Argentina, it was a real eye opener.”

Georgina said that overall it was a fantastic trip enjoyed by everyone. “This event is held every four years and brings the 13 Merino breeding countries together in one place, which provides a great opportunity for networking, bouncing ideas off each other and seeing how Merino operations work in other countries. It also provides a chance share knowledge as well as discuss problems and issues. You soon realise each country shares similar problems”.

“I believe it was certainly a beneficial tour for all involved, with plenty of opportunity to meet new people and make new friendships. The hospitality which was bestowed upon us from property to property was amazing. At these places we not only saw Merino but also some very good cattle and horses. We saw some amazing things on the properties, like 500 mares and their foals driven passed.”

Georgina also said that just the travel in these countries was definitely an experience in itself “People on the delegation were wonderful, they understood the challenges of traversing such great distances and working with different cultures, it created some fabulous memories with as much fun had in the journey as the destinations each day. Communication skills have also improved as a result of having to use sign language and various impersonations of animals, when speaking with the locals one on one or when trying to order in restaurants”.

In her final comments Georgina thanked all involved. “On behalf of the AASMB and the Merino breeders of Uruguay and Argentina, I would particularly like to thank all those who participated in the delegation, for their support of this event”.

The next World Merino Conference is planned to be in Hungary in 2022, with either a pre tour or post tour in Portugal.