Sheep numbers in Australia have tipped to reach 77.4 million head in 2012-13, according to the latest national clip forecast. Despite a predicted lift of 3 million, or 4.2 percent, the Australian Wool Production Forecasting Committee is predicting only a small increase of 1.4 percent in the clip to 350 million kilograms - equal to nearly two million bales.
Committee chairman Russell Pattinson said the projected sheep numbers were based on a survey of producer intentions.
"We have no reason to doubt the intentions, but whether or not they translate into actual numbers remains to be seen," said Pattinson.
The committee is forecasting that 80.5 million sheep, or 2.6 million more than last year, will be shorn next year.
For the 2011-12 season, the committee left the clip unchanged at 345 million kilograms, although in August the forecast was considerably higher at 355 million kilograms.
Pattinson said lower-than-expected fleece weights were partly to blame for the slightly reduced forecast, although the number of sheep shorn has not risen by as much as the lift in opening sheep numbers. He said fleece weights were anticipated to remain stable.
This news comes at the same time Australia officials say it will be officially drought-free next week for the first time in more than a decade, providing relief for struggling farmers.
When Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig lifts the last two Exceptional Circumstances declarations -- which provide subsidies to hard-up farmers -- in two areas on Monday, the vast island continent will officially no longer be in drought.
"The extended period of drought, which made things tough for many on the land, is finally over," Ludwig said. "The seasonal outlook is brighter than it has been for many years and the improved conditions are a welcome reprieve for farmers across Australia."