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Demand for alpaca fleece soars, but supply issues, labour shortages hamper industry’s growth



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Within the 15 years since Jenny Menzies purchased her first alpaca, demand for fleece has been rising. 

In 2022, for the primary time, Australia exported greater than 300 tonnes of alpaca wool to China, Canada, England, and New Zealand.

Ms Menzies, based mostly close to Bathurst, New South Wales, owns greater than 130 alpacas.

“The alpaca business is now truly viable, we’re nonetheless very new within the scale of issues, so far as exports are involved,” she mentioned.

“However the business is rising — we now have markets for our fleece now.”

This has been a substantial change for the business up to now decade. 

“Beforehand all people questioned ‘Effectively, what are we going to do with this fleece?'” Ms Menzies mentioned.

“Now we will truly promote the whole lot that comes off the animal.”

An older woman on a farm feeding an alpaca.
Jenny Menzies says she and others in a NSW-based co-op will be unable to fill some orders this yr.(ABC Rural: Hamish Cole)

Demand overtakes provide

In 2018, 70 alpaca farmers from NSW created a cooperative based mostly at Mittagong within the Southern Highlands.

Ms Menzies mentioned demand had outstripped provide.

“The co-op has bought roughly 200 tonnes of fleece abroad,” she mentioned.

“Now we have one nation in the intervening time that desires 90 tonnes of fleece for subsequent yr and we simply cannot fill that order.

“The demand has outgrown what we will produce.”

A light-coloured alpaca at a farm.
Jenny Menzies says China is the most important export marketplace for Australian alpaca fleece.(ABC Rural: Hamish Cole)

The growth of the export market has coincided with Australia’s alpaca herd numbers reaching 175,000 — the most important herd on the planet outdoors of South American nations.

Ms Menzies mentioned the value of an alpaca stud male fell over the previous decade from $20,000 to $2,000, permitting extra individuals to get into the business.

“The worth of alpacas to purchase as a beginning herd has come down tremendously, so it’s simpler for individuals to start out off,” she mentioned.

A middle-aged man shearing an alpaca.
Alpaca shearer Simon Warner says a scarcity of staff is limiting the business’s progress.(ABC Rural: Hamish Cole)

Scarcity of shearers

The dearth of shearers just isn’t solely impacting the sheep business.

Simon Warner has been shearing alpacas for 25 years and mentioned it was a wrestle to maintain up.

“We’re getting much more alpacas, I might say yearly it grows by at the least 10 per cent,” he mentioned.

“We’re going to have to seek out extra individuals to do it, however we’re in need of sheep shearers as nicely.”

Mr Warner mentioned he switched to shearing alpacas as a result of there was much less handbook labour concerned.

“Sheep aren’t a lot enjoyable anymore as a result of they’re so huge — I believe that’s the reason why a number of younger guys aren’t taking it up,” he mentioned.

“They might be a 3rd of the dimensions [larger] from once I sheared them 40 years in the past.”