A pioneering commercial trial by retailer and tailor M.J. Bale to create carbon neutral wool has finished, with the wool produced set to be made into a special knitwear line.
The trial at superfine woolgrower Simon Cameron's farm, Kingston, in Tasmania's northern Midlands, involved 48 ewes.
The ewes were put through a 300-day program, aimed at reducing sheep methane emissions to undetectable levels using daily feeds of asparagopsis seaweed.
The project is based on 2016 CSIRO research that found asparagopsis supplementation could reduce sheep's methane emissions by 50 to 80 per cent over a 72-day feeding period by disrupting enteric fermentation.
Mr Cameron currently runs about 5000 Merinos on Kingston, with their wool averaging around 16.2 microns.
He said the sheep had come through the trial well and the wool looked to be of fine quality.
"The trial has got to the point where we're sending the wool away for testing and that will be the real indicator of how all this is coming together," Mr Cameron said.
"We need to make sure that the quality of the wool matches the quality that we would normally expect from our sheep."
Mr Cameron said acting as a custodian to the land was extremely important.
"The way we manage our land down here, sheep are a very integral part of managing the land and coincidentally our best wool comes from our native country, which is important to us," he said.
"Because of consumer pressures and consumer expectations, we need to be able to continue to provide the wonderful, noble fibre that we produce here but if we can do that in a way that reduces the methane emissions from the sheep, then we produce an even more sustainable fibre than we are producing now."
Head of brand Jonathan Lobban said the trial was about looking at the next generation of consumers.
"We think Australian Merino wool is the world's best natural fibre, especially in tailoring," he said.
"It's sustainable, biodegradable, thermo-regulating, moisture wicking... it's got these amazing properties that are so well attuned to tailoring.
"Working with someone like Simon Cameron and Kingston farm... Simon is a man of deep integrity, he's a conservationist as well.
"He runs Kingston farm according to a set of ethics based upon his firm belief that he wants to leave Kingston in better shape than he found it... for us making garments of integrity is a real manifestation of that promise."
As well as their usual grazing diet, 12 ewes received a daily feed of barley and asparagopsis made by sustainable Tasmanian seaweed producer, Sea Forest, for 300 consecutive days.
A second group of 12 received asparagopsis and barley for the first 150 days but switched to solely a barley supplement for the remaining days, while another group of 12 started on barley for 150 days and then switched to the asparagopsis and barley combination.
The remaining ewes received a barley supplement for the full 300 days.
The asparagopsis made up just 0.2pc of the ewes' daily diet, at a cost of $400 a head.
Shearing produced 35 kilograms of carbon neutral wool and 70kg of 150-day asparagopsis-fed wool.
Normally M.J. Bale sends Kingston wool to Italy to be woven into worsted cloth by Vitale Barberis Canonico, but the desire to create a garment with the lightest carbon footprint possible has led them down a different path, with it set to be processed in regional Victoria.
"We're planning to literally walk and cycle it out of Kingston and get it across to Victoria, we've actually found someone who's prepared to sail it across the Bass Strait for us," Mr Lobban said.
"We want to do that, not only to create a 100pc carbon neutral garment, from fibre through to the end make of the garment but also to highlight that it's time for the revitalisation of Australian wool processing."
The wool is now undergoing official testing and classing, with the University of Tasmania compiling a report on the ewes' welfare and trial data analysis, expected to be complete by the end of July.
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