Up to $60 million could be added to the annual value of Western Australia's wool exports if crucial research financed by the Federal and State Governments proves successful.
State Development Minister Ian Taylor said today the research was designed to put more money into producers' pockets; give new confidence to wool buyers and improve WA's chances of attracting investment in wool processing.
"What the scientists will set out to do is increase the quality of WA's wool clip and, most importantly, put an end to some perceptions that wool fibre produced by local sheep is in some way weaker than that of other States," Mr Taylor said.
He said the perceptions were so damaging to the State's wool industry that in comparison with Australia's other wool producing States, WA wool was being sold at discounts of about 10 per cent.
"That means each year our wool producers are losing up to $60 million in potential income," Mr Taylor said.
"Not only does that undermine their viability, but it puts a considerable hole in the income of rural communities in general."
Mr Taylor said to add to the problems, perceptions that local wool lacked strength deterred major investment in wool processing in the State.
A recent State Government study had shown that if WA could attract such investment there was potential to boost annual export earnings by hundreds of millions of dollars.
"At the moment, WA's wool exports are worth about $578 million a year," Mr Taylor said.
"To process into basic products all the 38,000 tonnes of clean wool fibres we ship out each year would require an investment by industry of about $630 million.
"But the potential rewards are huge. Those basic products would increase our annual export earnings by $400 million.
"What is clear is that there is a big incentive to find a solution to the `weakness' problem."
Mr Taylor said the new research would be conducted jointly by the CSIRO, the WA Department of Agriculture and the University of WA as one of the main programs of the recently announced Co-operative Research Centre for Quality Wool.
The centre would be receiving $2 million annually for seven years from the Federal Government and the State Government too would make a `substantial' contribution.
"At the moment, no-one in the local wool industry is totally convinced that our wool fibres lack strength.
"The centre will do some comparative testing, and if this reveals a problem, the researchers will define precisely what is the cause and develop a workable solution."
Mr Taylor said changes in nutrition were thought to be one reason why wool grew at different rates and consequently developed `weak' spots along the length of individual fibres.
"So if there is a weakness problem, it could well be linked to the changes in climate and the impact these changes have on a sheep's eating habits during the wool's growth," he said.
"If this is correct, then scientists at the new centre are confident they can find a way to put it right.
"The result will be increased incomes for local wool producers, and enhanced prospects for the further processing, and a far more stable industry."