Gold standard wool lifts returns for Greenwich Pastoral
Tasmanian graziers Chris and Hannah Downie are now reaping the rewards from their commitment to sustainable and responsible wool production.
They recently achieved certification under an internationally recognised standard with help from the Elders wool team.
Developed by a number of wool clothing apparel retailers and brands from Europe, America and Japan, the Responsible Wool Standard (RWS) certification recognises the Downies’ progressive approach to managing sheep welfare and protecting the environment. It is the gold standard for wool, providing them and their consumers with confidence that they are sourcing product from reputable producers.
According to Lachie Brown, State Wool Manager for Elders across Victoria, Tasmania and the Riverina, the premium for RWS certified wool ranges from 5 to 15 per cent and demand is across the full range of wool types.
Lachie says that the Elders wool service team is currently working with a number of progressive graziers to help them achieve RWS certification and market their wool for better returns.
“For wool growers who have stopped mulesing, being RWS certified not only certifies this, but highlights their sustainable and ethical production systems, resulting in increased recognition and rewards in the market,” he said.
Chris and Hannah Downie from Greenwich Pastoral at Hamilton in southern Tasmania decided to go down the non-mulesing path several years ago, starting with their wethers. It has now been 12 months since they stopped mulesing in all their sheep.
“While it hasn’t been long, it’s been successful for us so far,”
Chris Downie, Greenwich Pastoral, Tasmania.
“It has meant adjusting our shearing dates slightly, and we are shearing all our hoggets and lambs three times in their first two years to keep wool length under control, but we are in a good environment for it and our sheep are bred to suit non-mulesing.”
While not mulesing is an important step to achieving certification, it isn’t the only requirement.
Lachie worked with Chris to complete an extensive on-farm audit, ensuring Greenwich Pastoral fulfilled all the requirements for RWS certification. This included setting up environmental monitoring sites, meeting a range of progressive animal handling standards and complying with best practice workplace employment and health and safety standards. Chris says it has made a big difference to their returns and estimates they are achieving a premium of 5 to 10 per cent on all their wool thanks to the RWS certification.
“One week recently we sold 80 bales before the auction that potentially wouldn’t have sold at all or would have gone for a significant discount,”
The Downies run a pure merino flock, shearing 15,000 sheep a year in June and averaging 18.5t o 19.5 micron, with 70 to 72 per cent yield and a staple length of 100 to 105 mm.
Their farm is based around Hamilton in the Derwent Valley on 5,000 hectares, with country ranging from irrigated river flats to native pasture on steep hills at up to 400 metres above sea level.
“It’s a challenging environment,” Chris said.
“Our winters are quite harsh and the summers are hot and dry. We only have a short growing season and a low 400 mm annual average rainfall.”
Lambing is timed for late winter to coincide with the start of the spring growing season and they keep stocking rates low at approximately 5DSE/ha, to maintain pasture cover and protect the soil from erosion. They have a good, reliable team of local shearers and work closely with the team at Elders Bothwell, including Damien Whiteley on sheep classing and David Dare for merchandise.
“Damien plays an important role in guiding breeding decisions and continues to assist with our transition to non-mulesing,” Chris said.
“Overall, our number one focus is passing the farm on to the next generation, as it has been passed on to me.
“I’m a sixth-generation farmer and we have two young boys, Henry and William. We’re always trying to operate as sustainably as we can.”
Learn about RWS and the wool certification options available through Elders.
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