There is no doubt Australians love alpaca wool – in clothing, beanies, scarves or blankets.
Now the Chinese want in.
And Bargo alpaca farmer Mick Williams couldn’t be happier.
The boom in the market means more alpaca growers are needed fast.
And now, Mr Williams’ top priority is to establish a co-operative to make it easier for Australian alpaca growers to sell fleece overseas.
About 50 alpaca producers from NSW, Victoria and South Australia will meet at Mittagong RSL on Saturday, June 16 from 12pm to officially form an alpaca co-operative.
“The co-op will buy fleece from producers at a good price and will sell to buyers, including the Chinese,” Mr Williams said.
As a trial, the co-op sent a premium-priced 700 kilogram sample to a Shanghai processor.
The processor agreed to buy 100 kilograms of each grade - ranging from less than 16 micron to above 36.6 micron - in all colours, for processing into clothing, carpets and doonas.
“The processor paid for all the transport costs, including the air-freight,” Mr Williams said.
“They also paid for all certifications, including a new export code required for raw alpaca fleece.
“Within six hours of receiving the fleece, they were sending me videos of the fleece processed as skeins.
“Now they’re asking for 10 tonnes of raw fleece each month.”
A regular supply contract has been sent via the processor’s Sydney-based agent.
Sourcing enough fleece to satisfy the demand could prove a challenge.
Mr Williams said there were under 500,000 alpacas in Australia and they needed that number to rise to one million to be competitive.
Mr Williams believes the co-op, and the export sales it secures, will inspire others to take up alpaca farming.
“There are not enough alpaca producers in Australia,” he said.
“We need more to fill the global market.
“The whole idea of the co-op is to give alpaca breeders some confidence and financial sustainability.
“This is all about building the national herd.”
Mr Williams is a fourth-generation farmer and runs 1200 alpacas on his stud properties at Storybook Alpacas in Bargo, Coolawarra in Mittagong and another farm in Pheasants Nest.
Mr Williams said there was a future in alpaca breeding and it could be a viable business for established sheep or cattle farmers as well as novice farmers.
“The public has a thirst for alpacas,” he said. “They just love them.
“The quality of the fibre is high because it does not have a lot of vegetable matter in it.
“There is also not as much lanolin in the wool so it is not as itchy. The wool is also light and warm.
“Alpacas are an easy animal to farm.
“They are environmentally-friendly because they are proficient eaters and they don’t need a lot of work to look after them.
“They are also clean animals. The herd will do their droppings in the same spot so the paddock is clean.”
Mr Williams invites anyone who was interested in alpaca farming and wanted to learn more to come to the meeting.
“Alpaca farmers are happy to help and will help set up the stud,” he said.