In 2012, the idea was borne to establish a fleece collection point at Annkea Alpacas in the Yarra Valley and connect to other established collection points across Australia. Breeders in South Australia and Western Australia had already begun to adopt a successful classing and collecting regime. As a group of dedicated volunteers, AFN(Aust), felt confident that alpaca fibre, when treated with the respect it deserves, would achieve the financial return it is worthy of.
This decision also came about from a realization that the collection and sales of alpaca fibre was lacking in direction and seriously slowing. Breeders were either hoarding years of fibre in their sheds or achieving just a few dollars for their whole annual clip.
The most important consideration we faced as a group was how to market our clip as a small and emerging industry – bearing in mind that we are competing against hundreds of thousands of tonnes of Merino fibre from Australia, and on the international stage we are competing against thousands of tonnes of alpaca fibre from South America. When competing against such comparatively low cost options, it is madness to think that we have any chance of achieving the returns expected by Australian alpaca breeders, unless we could offer something significantly different from the competition: a meticulous approach to fleece preparation, collection and sales.
To achieve this, we focus on the following:
1. Contamination: Guard hair, excessively coarse fibres and contamination including coloured fibre, toenails etc must be removed before fibre is placed in non biodegradable bags for storage prior to delivery to collection points. It is important to note here that processors could reject a whole bale of white fibre, if it was found to be contaminated with a few fibres of a different colour. Similarly our raw product can be rendered valueless if there is a significant level of coarse fibres.
2. Variation across the body: Fibre from different sections of the same animal can vary significantly in micron and handle. At collection points, each saddle is realistically skirted, three point tested with an OFDA machine (cost to breeder of $1.65/saddle), and these saddles are then placed in bales of 2 micron increments. Conversations with numerous fibre buyers revealed the demand for fibre collected in this fashion with a guarantee of NO CONTAMINATION.
3. Commercial Quantities: The critical mass of fleece (presented in the appropriate manner) to sustain the buyers’ requirements and utilize industrial machinery. Commercial mills specify minimum weights for processing. We must be able to meet these minimum requirements and provide buyers with a selection of colours in the specified micron bands for processing at large commercial mills.
Our collection days revealed the importance of adhering to correct shearing protocols in order to avoid contamination from the beginning. Our volunteer group of contributors and supporters has worked tirelessly to re-educate growers and shearers how to correctly harvest and handle our precious alpaca fibre, at every stage, in a manner that achieves the best returns possible for all stakeholders.
We have demonstrated that there is a market for ALL alpaca fibre if presented as the buyers require – there is NO such thing as No Commercial Value.
AFN(Aust) has on a voluntary basis, sold on behalf of growers, several thousands of kilograms of white and coloured fibre of all micron.
Recent sales include:
1. 16-18 micron $22 per kg
2. 18-20 micron $20 per kg
3. 20-22 micron $19 per kg
4. 22-24 micron $17 per kg
5. 24-26 micron $10 per kg
6. over 26 micron $4 per kg (no testing fee to grower)
The above prices are Nett price to breeder and involve all colours. We have established buyers in Australia, China, Europe and New Zealand. Our communication chain ensures that we are constantly in tune with buyers’ feedback and requirements, ensuring continual improvement to our processes and happy return customers.
All sales of pieces and skirtings collected from our collection days are placed in a petty cash fund which is used for education sessions, advertising and all incidentals required for classing, baling, pressing, transporting and selling our fibre.
Our future is in our hands. Nothing is achieved unless we all work hard. Progress is being made with “Breeders helping Breeders”. If we adopt a shearing and fleece preparation procedure that ensures our luxury fleece is uncontaminated, there is indeed a luxury alpaca fleece industry to be achieved, a valuable niche market on the world stage.
We now need breeders to co-operate, shear the high value saddle before the low value extremities, and join us with their well-prepared fleeces to satisfy our buyer demands of specifications and volumes.