Lamb Production

Maria is committed to sheep industry sustainability

Sheep Central, May 29, 2024

New Sheep Sustainability Framework steering group member Maria Crawford.

AUSTRALIA’S Sheep Sustainability Framework steering group gets on-farm expertise with corporate sustainability experience and a commitment to a future for youth in agriculture with its newest member Maria Crawford.

Maria is Coles’ livestock sustainability and innovation manager and, with her husband Matt and family, runs a fifth-generation sheep and wool property near Dunkeld, in Victoria’s Western District.

Maria has a wealth of experience gained across three sectors integral to the red meat industry – research and extension, supermarket procurement and prime lamb and wool production.

Prior to joining the major supermarket chain, Maria worked as a beef and sheep extension officer with Agriculture Victoria, after growing up on her family’s beef property in the state’s north-east.

Six years ago, she joined Coles to connect livestock producers with new technology, innovation and feedback, and as the focus on sustainability within the company increased, moved into her current role.

Maria said the increasing focus on sustainability and the livestock industry’s commitment to CN30 sparked a lot of questions from producer suppliers.

“They were asking ‘What does Coles want from us?” Ms Crawford said.

In April 2022, Coles launched its own branded carbon neutral beef, certified from paddock to shelf to the Australian Government’s Climate Active Carbon Neutral Standard.

“It’s essentially a productivity program rather than a sustainability program, but we believe the two go hand in hand – sustainable farms can’t be sustainable unless they’re productive,” Maria said.

“Combining these two elements with profitability brings the whole farm system together.

“I’m really interested in building on that and identifying the low hanging fruit, the small one-percenters that we can do to actually reduce emissions but stay productive.”

Maria said customers have always thought that our farmers were doing a good job.

“But now they demand proof, so we always need to provide that provenance story and evidence, and the Sheep Sustainability Framework is a way of doing that.”

“At the same time, our direct relationship with the producers enables us to feed all of our consumer knowledge and information back to them.”

Maria believes sustainability reporting on biodiversity and deforestation is a key emerging issue for the industry, while the ongoing commitment to animal welfare will always be a core principle.

“It’s about measurement.

“It’s making sure that we can achieve all that, and that we can actually demonstrate what we’re doing,” she said.

Maria said she was looking forward to her new role as retail representative on the SSF Sustainability Steering Group.

“We have a lot of customer insights, so taking that supply chain knowledge back to the framework to say, ‘These are the issues that are coming up, these are front and centre’ and providing a forward insight into what’s happening in the retail space domestically will be quite useful, I hope,” she said.

“I’m really looking to contributing to an industry that is progressive, profitable and productive and has high welfare standards and great market access.

“It’s an old cliché, but we have a son and daughter interested in agriculture, so I want to be able to provide a positive future for the next generation.”

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