By Amy Conner
January 2005 -- A new appraisal system for wool is being adopted in the United States for the upcoming wool season. The Australian Wool Exchange Description (AWEX-ID) will be used to describe the non-measured characteristics of greasy wool, such as breed, wool category or line of wool, style, vegetable matter and other non-measured characteristics.
The purpose of this system, which is already used to describe wool in Australia and South Africa, is to assist in the development of a universal common language and to simplify market reporting. It is expected that New Zealand and several countries in South America will also begin using the AWEX-ID system.
This system was developed by the Australian Wool Exchange (AWEX) more than 10 years ago. Chris Miley, regional manager at AWEX, says the process is flexible, intuitive and simple. He also stated that some minor changes to the system are needed in the United States. However, they will complement the AWEX-ID system -- not compromise it.
?It is a global tool that can be used in the wool industry to provide a common language,? says Miley.
Miley stresses that some important aspects must be kept in mind when using the system to describe wool: Information collected doesn?t duplicate the existing objective measurement information; the characteristics are identified only by the sample collected. Characteristics are reliable and repeatable, and the system assists both buyers and sellers when wool changes hands.
The AWEX-ID system is broken into two parts:
The first category that is reported in the prime characteristics is the breed code. AWEX-ID does not exclusively identify every finite breed due to the difficulty in reliable identification of some breeds and their crosses. The reporting of sheep breeds in the United States is achieved through five main groups: Merino, Merino Cross, Crossbred, Downs or Carpet. If the wool was shorn from a lamb or it is the first shearing of a yearling, it must be identified as such.
The next category reported is the wool line. This category identifies fleece wool, belly wool, pieces removed at skirting, crutching or locks.
A numerical style category is then assigned to the wool. Style is identified on a ranking scale with four being termed ?best.? This ranking is relative to the greasy appearance or conformation of the lot within the wool category and breed. Style includes, but is not limited to, the following characteristics: staple density, tip dust penetration, degree of weathering, crimp regularity and definition, frib content and general visual appearance. Most wool in the United States will fall into four different style categories: best, good, average or inferior.
Vegetable matter is the last mandatory category that is reported. Vegetable matter is categorized into a type based on difficulty or trouble it causes in wool processing, because some vegetable matter is more of a problem than others in wool. For example, vegetable matter that shreds like straw into fibrous components or needle grass is much more of a concern to processors than sticks or twigs.
Qualifiers represent the second half of the identification system and identify issues that may be of concern for processors, such as paint brands, unscourable color, skirtings, stain pieces, shanks, leg wool or cotted fleeces. Greasy length and strength must also be estimated and identified only if the lot has not been objectively tested for staple length and strength.
?The goal of the AWEX-ID description is to not have any surprises when the buyer opens the bale,? says Bob Padula, wool quality improvement consultant for the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI). ?The lot of wool is described and represents what is in the bale.?
An AWEX-ID training session conducted by Miley was held in Denver, Colo., Oct. 27-28, 2004, to educate the U.S. wool infrastructure of the identification system. The training session was attended by more than 25 people. These attendees, in addition to the others who participated in the two previous sessions, are now accredited AWEX appraisers in the United States.
?This training completes the first step of the adoption process ? now we need for the appraisers to start utilizing the system in their warehouses,? says Padula. ?We will have to finalize the adoption process and determine if any changes need to be made to the system before the next wool season begins.?
Checks and balances are crucial to the success of the AWEX-ID system because wool appraisal is subjective. A governing body representative of the wool marketing infrastructure will also need to be established in the United States. Not only will this ensure that the appraisals are being consistently applied, it also will provide the U.S. wool industry with a benchmarking system.
?Although there is a small range in which some characteristics may fall, it is important that the appraisers are consistent so that the descriptions remain reliable,? says Miley in his training session.
Barry Savage, international marketing consultant for ASI, also addressed the trainees to explain how the system can be used in the wool industry. He said that it is an essential basis for market reporting, it provides international confidence in the integrity of the description and that top makers and buyers can interpret the AWEX-ID into their own systems, which is a desirable outcome.
The major beneficiaries of the AWEX-ID system are the producers, primary sellers of wool and the market reporters.
?Producers benefit from the system because it gives them specific reasoning for the price they receive for their wool,? Savage says.
The system also assists the producers on a wool quality improvement standpoint: It allows them to understand where changes in their wool clip need to occur in order to produce a higher price; without it, the improvement process would be more difficult.
?ASI is going to produce educational materials so that the growers have a better understanding of the AWEX-ID system. With AWEX-ID information, growers are in a better position to understand why they receive the price they do for their wool,? Padula says.
He says that the goal for this year?s wool season is to have at least half of what is sold labeled by the AWEX-ID system, which would entail the cooperation of those included in the infrastructure of the industry.
?The next goal is to determine how the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) can incorporate it into their market reports,? he says. ?AWEX-ID opens up a lot of doors for market transparency as far as market reporting and knowing what kind of product it being sold.?
Breed Category ? Merino, Merino Cross, Crossbreed, Downs or Carpet
Wool Sub-Category ? identifies the wool from lambs or the first shearing of yearlings
Wool Category ? Fleece, Belly Wool, Pieces removed at skirting, Crutching or Locks
Style Category ? Ranges from one to seven, most United States wool will be categorized as: 4 = best, 5 = good, 6 = average or 7 = inferior
Vegetable Matter Category ? identifies the type of vegetable matter found
Qualifiers (reported only when found)
Greasy Length Indicator ? estimated only when the length has not been tested
Strength Indicator ? estimated only when the strength has not been tested, part tender, tender or very tender
Qualifiers ? Paint Brands, Scourable and Unscourable Color, Skirtings, Stain pieces, Shanks, Leg Wool, Cotted Fleeces, Mud, Black and Grey Fibers, Dark Stain or other issues that may be on concern for processors.