Primary Focus

Australia's sheep flock decline under the microscope

It is no secret that the Australian sheep flock has been in continuing decline since the 1990s. Although producers have seen reasonable returns from meat and wool in recent years, the industry continues to see sheep numbers reduce.

sheep pic

In order to highlight the key drivers of the flock decline, Sheep Producers Australia (SPA) commissioned the “Sheep Supply” Project. Made up of four components, the project aims to qualify the global demand for Australian sheep-meat and the opportunities for investing in programs that enable increased sheep-meat supply.

“We instigated the project due to concerns about our ability to supply a consistent volume of sheep and lamb to the processing sector and maintain Australia’s position as a major supplier of sheep meat globally,” said SPA’s CEO, Stephen Crisp.

“Understanding the drivers of flock decline is vital when making policy decisions to support the rebuild or restructure of the Australian sheep-meat industry.”

Animal Health Australia (AHA) and Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) are assisting SPA in managing the different components of the project, which utilise both data science and social science methodologies.

The project includes a global demand forecast for 2030, conducted by MLA’s Global Insights team, an analysis on flock decline to understand causational factors which have caused the flock to increase or decrease in the past, and an overall data and insight analysis where a skills-based steering group will determine strategic priorities from all data collected.

The fourth element of the project relies on qualitative social science analysis to explore the demographics of current and past sheep producers and provide an insight into the attitudes of producers at different points of their production career.

To deliver the social science research element, AHA and SPA have engaged Dr Roger Wilkinson, Dr Geoff Kuehne and Dr Neil Barr. With more than 80 years of combined experience researching farmer decision-making and farm sector restructuring, this team of researchers has a deep understanding of sheep production systems and the farming community.

“We are excited to be working with such a strong team of researchers to identify the social factors which are influencing the decline in sheep numbers,” said AHA’s Executive Manager Biosecurity and Animal Health Systems, Dr Simon Humphrys.

“The research team will be seeking input from current and past sheep producers across Australia through in-depth qualitative interviews, and we encourage all those who are approached to participate in this vital research.”

Interviews for this research will commence in April 2021.