A Harrow farmer has suggested Wimmera wool growers be flexible with their selling programs, as the coronavirus outbreak threatens to disrupt exports to China.
Michael Craig, a former Nuffield Scholar, Victorian Farmers Federation Wimmera councillor and Sheep Producers Australia representative, said Chinese wool processors close to the affected provinces had temporarily shut their doors.
"Fortunately at this point it hasn't unduly affected our prices because supply is so tight up the value chain," he said.
"However if the shut down continues who knows? China takes close to 80 per cent of (Australia's) wool, so we are definitely reliant. Fortunately we have a variety of markets for sheep meat."
There was a nine cents drop in wool prices per kilogram last week, with the coronavirus one of several factors this was attributed to.
Mr Craig runs a wool, lamb, cattle and cropping operation. He said the major overseas markets for lamb were the US and Middle East, with about 45 per cent consumed domestically.
"I suppose for wool growers we have to be aware of the situation and flexible in terms of our own selling program," he said. "There may be a short-term slowing of demand in the next couple of months, but the great thing about wool is it isn't perishable, we can pass it in.
"We start shearing next week and so this week we had an honest conversation with our bank manger that we might have to hold. On the farm I think we stick to the old adage of plan for the worst, manage for the best. So let's make sure we are not a forced seller: That's a why it's critical our bank mangers understand where our businesses are at."
Grain Producers Australia president Andrew Weidemann, of Rupanyup, said China's requirement of feed grain had dropped immediately as the virus spread, but the long-term impact was hard to predict.
"It will depend on how long the virus hangs around for and what the demands are for feed," he said.
"In China we haven't been selling as much there anyway because of an anti-dumping inquiry that has been going on."
In November 2018, China launched an investigation into potential dumping of Australian barley on the Chinese market, prompting a drop in interest in feed barley.
Mr Weidemann said since then, grain industry organisations had been seeking to open up other markets to growers. He said it had had some success in this regard, after it was announced on Monday that India had changed its import fumigation protocols for malting barley.
He said this market was likely to be open for the upcoming season.
"At the moment it's probably a half a million tonne market which we think can grow in time to double that," he said.
The Department of Agriculture told the Mail-Times it was hosting industry roundtables and working closely with agriculture exporters to track the trade impact of the coronavirus.
"It is too early early to tell what the impacts are and how severe they might be," a spokesman said.
"There are a number of programs that exporters may seek to apply for assistance, this includes Austrade's export market development grants scheme. The Rural Financial Counselling Service can also provide support to understand exporters current position and implement plans to assist your business. The Farm household support allowance is available for eligible applicants."
The first case of the virus was recorded in Wuhan, China in December. There are now more than 60,000 confirmed cases of the virus worldwide, including 15 in Australia, while 1357 people have died.
An update from the Australian Department of Health on Friday said coronavirus (COVID-19) was a respiratory illness.
"Symptoms range from a mild cough to pneumonia. Some people recover easily, others may get very sick very quickly. There is no treatment. Good hygiene can prevent infection," the update read.
It said there was evidence that the virus spread from person-to-person, especially in China's Hubei Province, or by touching ones face after touching surfaces with cough or sneeze droplets from infected people.
Food Standards Australia and New Zealand says transmission of the virus through food was unlikely and there was no evidence of this occurring with novel coronavirus to date.
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