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Growing Demand for Alpaca Wool

Narelle and Peter Tulip, of East Maitland, are pioneers of the alpaca fibre industry.
They’ve worked to produce quality animals and fleece since 1994 and are probably the sole producers of high-quality fibre in the Hunter Region.
Although they sold one animal with strong genetic lines in the recent past for $150,000, the Tulips still need another business to keep their balance sheet a healthy one.
That may change with prices for fine alpaca fibre and international appreciation of the natural beauty of the fleece achieving new, high levels.
A 151-kilogram bale of 17.4-micron alpaca fibre from all over Australia sold recently for $10,000, a new world record. (A micron is onemillionth of a metre.)
Mrs Tulip said the big challenge for the industry was to achieve higher yields of fibre off individual animals.
‘‘What we all should be breeding for is fineness, length and weight,’’ Mrs Tulip said. ‘‘I think prices will continue to increase because alpaca is such a luxury fibre.’’
Alpacas are originally from South America. They are a species of camelid, like the llamas they resemble.
The Tulips, whose fibre was not in the record-breaking bale, are said to be some of the best at breeding animals that produce high yields.
Premium Alpaca is a marketing program that has targeted ‘‘high end’’ markets in Europe and Japan for fine fleece.
Premium Alpaca executive director Paul Vallely, a fine wool producer based in southern NSW, said prospective customers like alpaca because it had better environmental credentials than wool.
‘‘The fine fibre doesn’t have to be dyed because it comes in different colours,’’ Mr Vallely said.
‘‘Harsh chemicals are used in the wool dyeing process.
‘‘Alpaca will never replace wool but there is some market potential for blending with superfine wool.’’
Australian Alpaca Association Central Coast and Hunter Region marketing manager Nigel Thompson, of Mount Vincent, said there were about 30breeders in the Hunter and about 500registered animals.
‘‘Narelle is one of the leaders in quality and volume per animal,’’ Mr Thompson said.
The Tulips may have the field to themselves in the future.
Mr Thompson said breeders were leaving the Hunter for the New England region, where conditions were better suited to the animals.
Mrs Tulip said the Japanese love alpaca fibre golf clothes.
Her favourite alpaca item is a blanket that keeps her comfy and warm at night.