AUSTRALIAN Merino wool producers committed to transparent, traceable ethical fibre and meat production, and landscape management, are being sought to join a co-operative.
Merino wool producers in two states launched the Australian Ethical Merino Growers Co-op last month, supported financially by the federal government’s Farming Together co-operative program.
The co-op is being facilitated by Bowral-based Andrew Ross, founder of outdoor clothing brand Bluey Merino and its NSW and Tasmanian members have more than 40,000 sheep.
The group is developing an Agtech traceability platform called MyOrigins, and a website to share their stories of sustainable Merino wool production.
Mr Ross said the number of non-mulesed flock owners in Australia is growing by about 10 percent annually, based upon industry declarations.
The co-op was formed to take advantage of national and international market opportunities underpinned by the Textile Exchange’s global Responsible Wool Standard, supporting a premium price for their Merino wool and lamb meat, longer term, he said. The RWS prohibits mulesing but accepts wool from flocks which have ceased mulesing under certain conditions.
“Most of these farms who aren’t mulesing or have ceased mulesing, they’re also supplying lamb to the market, but they haven’t got a voice to talk about that, especially when European markets are starting to demand this transparency.
“The co-op is giving growers a voice – those who have chosen to produce their product, whether it be fibre or meat, in this manner,” Mr Ross said.
Mr Ross said current Merino wool supply chains are managed by brokers and processors, rather than the growers.
“If you think about where the power sits at the moment, it sits with the brokers.
“So what we are saying in a disruptive environment where technology is underpinning this, we are bringing the relationship between the producer, and brands and consumers, once step closer,” he said.
“This is happening in every single marketplace in Australia at the moment; those who are willing to acknowledge that, will understand why it is such a great opportunity for Australia’s primary producers.”
Mr Ross said Merino wool producers needed to be moving with the shift in the outdoor industry brands toward sustainable and ethical supply chains, and verifiable traceability.
All growers joining the co-op will either already be RWS certified or are declaring as non-mulesing/ ceased mulesing and will within a two-year timeframe be audited against the RWS independently.
“We are seeking to integrate Australian Ethical Merino wool production with international markets – particularly North American and European buyers,” Mr Ross said.
“We are also hoping to boost values for Australian farmers and offer the certainty of supply contracts over forward years.”
Mr Ross said the Farming Together funding outcomes included founding the co-op and telling its story online, and building the AgTech traceability platform from farm to finished product using block chain technologies.
“So we are building the first stage of that as a part of this initial funding – it is intended to build it on block chain technologies.
“We are moving from the notebook that sits in the top pocket to a hand-held device that feeds back information into a central data base to ease the burden on grower record keeping.”
Among the co-op’s foundation members are Chris Cocker and Shelley Saunders-Cocker of Barega, Tasmania. Their 3000 Merinos produce wool that averages 14.5-15 microns.
“We think this group is the way of the future,” Mr Cocker said.
New South Wales growers Philip and Alison Attard at Uralla are aiming for an 18,000 non-mulesed flock with an average micron of 15.6. Mr Attard said the co-op is increasing the industry’s credibility.
Other co-op members include Tasmanians Lindsay and Rae Young from at Ross, who run 7000 19 micron Merinos; the third-generation Blomfield family commercial and Karori Merino Stud operation at Walcha, NSW; Michael and Milly Taylor, and Bruce and Anita Taylor, at Kentucky NSW. The co-operative’s co-chairs are Anita Taylor and Rae Young and its other directors are Michael Taylor and Andrew Ross (independent).
The group received $175,000 from Farming Together and is seeking other Merino wool producers with a commitment to sustainable and ethical farming practices. Contact Andrew on 0448 111 963 or email@example.com
Farming Together program director Lorraine Gordon said the co-op was among more than 700 farming groups who have become involved in the Australian Government-funded initiative. Visit www.farmingtogether.com.au.
In the next three months, Bluey Merino’s first consignment of Merino wool processed within an RWS-accredited supply chain and sourced from Murrayfield Station on Bruny Island, will be handled through Fox and Lillie Rural and processed by Zhejiang Xinao Textiles in China. The finished products will be marketed in Australia.
“I think to continue to differentiate and position Australian Merino wool into the future as a truly ethical fibre, the industry needs to decide to stand up as an industry and address it (mulesing) collectively,” Mr Ross said.