Is the Australian wool industry efficient at converting wool into value?

The marketing strategies of agricultural producers have become increasingly focussed on the sale of differentiated products to intermediary buyers rather than the sale of homogeneous commodities directly to retailers. The wool value chain in Australia fits the description of differentiated products being sold by wool producers to agribusiness firms that are intermediaries in the chain. The attributes of wool that are the source of this differentiation are used by firms to add value to their operations, reflected in higher retail prices paid for wool products. We measure the overall efficiency with which wool is converted into value across different processing routes and end products in the Australian wool value chain and decompose it into its technical, scale and mix efficiency components. We find that wool price changes significantly with a change in fibre diameter, staple length and staple strength and employ a flexible functional form to capture the relations between these wool attributes and lot value. Results show that considerable scope exists to increase the value of most sale lots, and indicate that the overall efficiency in extracting value is lower for wool supplied to processes that produce high-value wool garments. We then ascertain that various factors related to wool production and product characteristics significantly influence the level of technical efficiency. The mix of the three key attributes in wool lots was found not to be a major factor influencing overall efficiency whereas scale efficiency scores (which we measure as returns to wool attributes) were clearly much lower than those for technical and mix efficiency scores, a function of strongly increasing returns to wool lots as the levels of attributes increase. We test propositions about the skewness of distributions of efficiency scores in translating wool attributes into value. Most distributions of overall efficiency scores are positively skewed for production processes paying high prices for wool, and differences in overall efficiency were observed across selling centres. Prima facie, the results provide a strong case for wool producers to move to higher value levels of wool attributes by producing finer, stronger and longer wool fibres – especially the former. But such a strategy may not be an optimal one for producers to follow because the investments they make to implement such a strategy may entail high costs and take a long period to fruition that would lead to a heavy discounting of future benefits. A full benefit-cost analysis would be needed of any investments to raise the levels of wool attributes and otherwise improve wool quality at the farm level.

Issue Date:
Jul 01 2015
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Published in:
Australasian Agribusiness Review, Volume 23
Page range:

 Record created 2017-08-25, last modified 2017-08-25

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