THE Heiniger Australia story was the topic of discussion at the Agribusiness Australia Breakfast at the Duxton Hotel in Perth recently. Heiniger Australia managing director Gary Lyons presented an overview of the history of the 71-year-old, Switzerland-based company, its role in the shearing industry and how it developed its technology and business strategy to meet the changing market place. “I’ve been the managing director in Australia and New Zealand for nearly three decades,” Mr Lyons said. “In that time I have seen many changes in agribusiness – particularly with the wool sector. “The Australian wool industry has been good to us.” Mr Lyons said the Australian wool industry produced a fine wool which was suited mainly to high-end garments such as suits, while in New Zealand they produced a coarser wool, suitable for things such as carpets. “In 1970 Australia had 180 million sheep, today we have 73m,” Mr Lyons said. “In NZ in 1982 they had 70m sheep and today they have 29m – that’s 102m population in Australasia.” Mr Lyons said Australia produced 24 per cent of the world’s clean wool – as opposed to China’s 15pc and NZ at 10pc. “Australian wool saw a record low in 1998 of 465 cents a kilogram,” Mr Lyons said. “This year we have seen a record high.” The Western Market Indicator reached 1680c/kg in August and has since dropped back to 1674c/kg (see story on page 18). “NZ is the opposite — the broader wool is at an all-time low at 230c/kg this year,” he said. “The high was in 2011 when it reached 670c/kg.” Mr Lyons said Hermann Heiniger started the business in 1946 and developed the electric grinder in 1962 which led to clipping shears for cows in the winter months to prevent cattle losses from hyperthermia after being waterlogged. The company expanded into Australia in 1989, with its first office in Perth, and it crossed into NZ in 2002 with its first office established in Christchurch due to the population of sheep numbers in the South Island. Heiniger now employs 30 people in Australia and 110 worldwide. Mr Lyons said it had invested in research and development and technical development with a focus on shearing shed safety. He said shearers were a dieing breed with an ageing and depleting workforce. “The average shearer shears 130 sheep a day at $3 per head – for a total of 36 weeks a year,” Mr Lyons said. “The average shearer earns $65,000 a year and spends about $5000 on tools of the trade.” He said because of this trend, Heiniger looked for alternatives to shearing and made an investment into Bioclip technology to chemically remove wool. Although the technology was introduced to the market it was later withdrawn due to a lack of interest from wool producers. Mr Lyons said Bioclip was “still in its R&amp;D phase in terms of harvesting the fibre”. “There’s certainly a place for it in the market – when you have a 160 kilogram sheep you can’t expect a shearer to handle it,” he said. Reintroducing it to the market may still be some time away. Mr Lyons said Heiniger products were 35-40pc dearer than cheaper Asian or United Kingdom products but the company had “never devalued or discounted its product”. “It’s something we are proud of – quality will win over price always,” Mr Lyons said. The 2020 vision for Heiniger Australia was to accomplish a $50 million revenue by further consolidation of the business, focusing on animal health, personal care, increasing its export activity, and supply chain traceability. “We are not sure how traceability affects us but it is an area of interest to us,” Mr Lyons said.