Plevna Downs – producing organic wool in the outback
It’s a long way from Quilpie shire in outback Queensland to Europe, but that’s exactly where the organic, non-mulesed wool clip from Plevna Downs is headed.
The clip, presented by Elders at the Sydney Wool auctions last month, was the only one of its type and had two exporters trying to secure the clip prior to sale.
“The clip came under very spirited bidding,” explained Elders NSW/Qld wool sales manager Andrew Combe. “It sold for about 10 per cent above our appraisal.”
Plevna Downs is a 112,000 hectare property near Eromanga in south-western Queensland run by fourth generation farmers Sandy and Heidi Mackenzie.
The property was started by Sandy’s great grandfather in 1937.
“Back then, it was 180,000 acres (72,843 hectares), had one dam and a boundary fence,” Sandy explained.
“We always had Merinos and the first wool clip was in 1940.”
Sandy’s parents, Stuart and Robyn, made the decision to go fully NASAA certified organic in 1997.
“It was a pretty natural decision,” explained Sandy.
“We didn’t really rely on chemicals anyway.”
The dry climate of the region and the breed of Merino they ran (fewer wrinkles and wool around the breech), meant there were fewer health issues that needed intervention. There were organic substitutes if needed, such as a powdered sheep dip that was mixed with water for lice, and eucalyptus-based products for flies.
It took almost three years to make the transition and planning was a big part of the success, Sandy said.
They installed approximately 90 kilometres of exclusion fencing aimed at keeping predators and other grazing animals out, giving more feed for their stock. This was critical during the dry years when organic feed was harder to find.
They also ran poly pipe from bores, which allowed the stock to spread out rather than crowding around the dams and doing damage to the area.
“It reduced our environmental impact, the welfare of the animals improved as they didn’t have to walk so far to food and water, and the bottom line was we had more lambs.” Heidi said.
And more lambs means more organic wool.
“It’s a niche market, but there is strong exporter demand for this sort of organic, non-mulesed wool in the market – in particular the Europeans love this sustainable product and Plevna Downs has the ability to grow large parcels of this wool it allows exporters to put together containers lots if they require,” explained Andrew.
The Mackenzies are grateful for the advice and support they receive from Elders. Although they strayed, they came back to Elders about three years ago.
Elders was the only place that offered Responsible Wool Standards, which involved an audit of the whole property and how the wool is handled.
“Andrew has his finger on the pulse as far as the wool industry and market goes and educates us,” said Heidi.
“It may not be in his job description, but it really helps us. They provide a great support network.”
With a fifth generation of Mackenzies now in its infancy, Sandy and Heidi continue to plan Plevna Downs’ future. They believe if they look after the environment it will look after them and continue to build the self-replacing flock to keep the genetics so suited to the region. And Europe.
Elders can help you maximise the return on your wool clip.