From the farm level to entire communities – the International Wool Textile Organisation shares a few recent case studies demonstrating the wool industry’s capacity to do good.
Impact reduction efforts continue within the wool industry, while many are also demonstrating leadership on how to go beyond just doing less bad but to actually making things better. Below are a few examples where the wool industry’s emissions reductions, regenerative practices and community-building are helping to build a better, more resilient world.
Healthier ecosystems with holistic grazing
Australia is the definitive leading global supplier of merino wool, meaning that successful sustainability initiatives on the ground can make a big difference. Here, the concept of “holistic management” is taking off, as case after case now confirm that farmers’ efforts to improve the natural capital of their farms through holistic management pays off – in more ways than one.
One example is Winona. Said to be one of the most studied farms in Australia, Winona uses principles of planned grazing to mimic the grazing of wild animals by combining grazing animals into large herds and rotating them around the property. The results speak for themselves: Entomology studies here have shown that insect life has increased by 600%, and while no fertilizer has been used on the pasture for 40 years, the soil nutrient content has increased on average by 162%.
Winona is also a net carbon sink, whereby its soils absorb more carbon than what its business operations emit. In total, the farm is calculated to sequester 485 tCO2e/year, and the property’s soil has been found to hold over 200% more organic carbon than the neighboring property.
Local efforts at the farm level are also bringing in accolades on the global stage. The Uruguayan wool growers La Soledad, for example, is managed by farmer and entrepreneur Gabriela Bordabehere. Here, the unique natural pastures of the surrounding “campos” and the possibility to graze in the open air throughout the year provide the basis to produce the highest quality merino wool.
La Soledad also employs regenerative agriculture practices that have been demonstrated to improve the soil, capture carbon, protect biodiversity and eliminate the use of synthetic agrochemicals. All of this, in turn, have enhanced animal welfare and supported local farmer’s livelihoods. In recent years, La Soledad joined Gucci and one of the world’s largest wool producers, Chargeurs Luxury Fibers, to promote regenerative practices under the NATIVA Regenerative Agriculture Program in Uruguay. In recognition of its efforts, La Soledad was awarded the “Climate Action Award” by The Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana at Milan Fashion Week 2023.
Building community resilience
Besides addressing climate and biodiversity, one project in South Africa demonstrates that wool farming can also support community resilience and promote landscape recovery.
Following years of apartheid and migrant labor draining the local workforce, communities that had once successfully farmed livestock eventually lost the knowledge of how to do it properly, resulting in marginal yields and overgrazed, depleted landscapes.
A project headed by the South African chapter of the Savory Institute in partnership with the Olive Leaf Foundation and local elected community development and implementation committees is showing that holistic practices can indeed help rebuild both community and landscape resilience. Here, a holistic grazing plan now combines herds of cattle that graze long grass, sheep that graze shorter grass and goats that browse to produce a large herd per area. This, in turn, enables high-density grazing that breaks up the soil with animal hooves and concentrates the nutrients gained from animal dung and urine. A carefully choreographed grazing plan, meanwhile, allows each area to fully recover before being grazed again.
Communal farmers are already seeing increases in wool quantity and quality from each sheep, and the lamb mortality rate has plummeted. The sum of all this is a level of security and predictability that farmers can now plan around, empowering them to go from subsistence to commercial farming, helping to create new livelihoods, better food security and healthier ecosystems.
The International Wool Textile Organisation (IWTO) is the global authority for standards in the wool textile industry. Since 1930, IWTO has represented the collected interests of the global wool trade. IWTO’s 33 members are based in 22 countries around the world, and represent all stages of the wool textile pipeline, from farm to retail. Through scientific research, wool textile education and knowledge sharing, IWTO ensures a sustainable future for wool.
Lead image: La Soledad Nativa