‘Money talks’ is behind a surge in SustainaWOOL accredited farms, as price premiums lure 700 farms to join the integrity scheme in just over two years.
New England Wool (NEW), together with its Italian shareholders Reda and Vitale Barberis Canonico, took action on offering integrity in Australia’s wool supply chain by launching SustainaWOOL in 2015.
The aim was to promote sustainable wool production both in terms of the animal and the environment.
NEW managing director, Andrew Blanch, said consumers and retail brands, particularly in Europe, wanted to know the raw fibre had been sustainably produced, including high levels of animal welfare.
Due to this market pressure, he said, the accreditation had become a necessity that had grown an empire of high-class woolgrowers in Australia.
“If you receive a premium for your wool, it gives you an incentive to do it,” Mr Blanch said.
“The vast majority of Australian woolgrowers are keen to promote to the world how well they look after their sheep and their environment, but it is the commercial pull-through which we have been able to give the scheme which has certainly worked.
“We are not just telling you to do this, we are saying, here is some money to make it worthwhile.”
Originally established for the superfine wool market, the integrity scheme has received all types of wool from diverse growing areas.
A recent re-release of the scheme includes two sub-branches, SustainaWOOL Green that is for non mulesed or ceased mulesed status wool – and represents 28pc of all accredited farms – and SustainaWOOL Blue, which is pain relief status wool.
The fully audited scheme requires wool to be environmentally and ethically produced, and fully traceable back to the farm.
The integrity movement comes as National Council of Wool Selling Brokers of Australia (NCWSBA) president John Colley reports premiums were rising for non-mulesed wool.
The data shows premiums for non-mulesed wool averaged between 13 and 30 cents a kilogram in 2016/17 for Merino wool 21 microns and finer, up from 1-15c/kg in 2015/16.
“This is an important piece of information for Australian woolgrowers, confirming the market feedback of rising interest in non-mulesed wool among retail brand companies in using non-mulesed wool in their product ranges,” Mr Colley said.
“These premiums are averaged across all wool sold in Australia by micron category. NCWSBA is aware of much higher premiums being offered by some companies for specific contracts.
“I hope that these premiums begin providing an incentive to producers of non-mulesed wool and offsetting the increased cost of moving away from mulesing.”
Mr Blanch said the SustainaWOOL scheme was evolving to become a “requirement” for the purchasing needs of the clients of NEW.
“It will get to the point where we will always have more demand for wool that has a strong scheme behind it,” he said.
“We have mapped where our SustainaWOOL members are located and there really is no environmental pattern – right where someone says they can’t stop mulesing, next door there is someone who has.
“Of course there could be many reasons for this, but we should promote discussion between growers to understand what can practicably be achieved.”
Mr Blanch said mulesing remained a contentious issue for mills, brands and growers.
“While ever there is wool being purchased from sheep that are still being mulesed, and particularly without the use of pain relief, there will be this argument of ‘why should I bother to stop’,” he said.
“But at what cost to our industry?
“We must be striving for the best welfare outcome for the animal so research into viable and acceptable alternatives to mulesing should obviously continue. The genie is already out of the bottle – we need to eliminate the need to keep talking about mulesing as soon as possible.”
Mr Blanch said it was “frustrating” the volume of orders he sees that request South African or New Zealand wool just to guarantee non-mulesed status.
“I know we are missing business in Australia because of that perception and I am seeing this more and more,” he said.
“Personally I want to buy as much wool from Australia and would like to get back to talking about quality again.
“While ever there is a country or a farm that confirms it can produce non-mulesed wool, consumers and brands will expect they should receive nothing less.”