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Beyond the Bale : Aug 07 - Sep 07
By Kellie Penfold Australian organic woolgrowers are being called upon to help UK retailer Marks & Spencer go 'green'. As part of a marketing strategy, Marks & Spencer is moving to making more of its product lines environmentally friendly. Graham Burden, who is the Marks & Spencer sustainable textiles and cotton specialist, has just visited Australia as part of his fact-finding mission on delivering fair-trade cotton, organic cotton, organic linen, organic wool and recycled polyester to the retailing giant. His task in Australia was to learn as much as he could about organic wool production, and he did that with visits to AWI head office and processors and growers in central NSW and Tasmania. Accompanying him were Jean-Baptiste D. de Speville, general manager, and Eddy Yeung, chief operating officer in textile operations, of Ferney Spinning Mills, the Mauritius-based company that supplies the majority of Marks & Spencer's wool garments, many of which are made using wool tops processed from Australian Merino wool at Fletcher International Exports in Dubbo. "At Marks & Spencer we want to offer customers the chance to buy our normal clothing lines, but in organic as well at the same price," Mr Burden says. "Therefore, this is not a chance for woolgrowers to suddenly make vast profits. But it is a chance to do something that improves the environmental sustainability of their farm." Marks & Spencer sells 650,000 pure-wool men's jumpers every year -- if all were organic, these clothing lines alone would require 250 tonnes of clean organic wool, about 2200 bales. This would represent a supply challenge for Australia. Estimates are that Australia has produced about 300 to 400 tonnes of clean, organic-certified wool -- although AWI suggests that five to 10 per cent of the Australian wool clip could potentially be viewed as being certifiably organic. At Peak Hill, south of Dubbo, the group saw first-hand the work of organic woolgrowers Ray and Judi Unger of 'Waratah', who have been accredited organic producers of wool, lambs, cattle and grains for 11 years. Their wool is marketed through the auction system, and Fletcher International Exports is often the buyer. "Chemicals can make life easy, but it won't work in your favour in the long term," says Ray, who runs a self-replacing Merino flock of 1300 sheep on the 1400-hectare farm using biodynamic principles. The flock produces roughly 10 tonnes of wool a year. The Ungers believe, at conventional prices, organic wool production barely breaks even, and there are constraints to lifting production quickly. "Even if we were paid more for the wool and demand was there, we can't suddenly produce more wool quickly," Ray says. "If you bought more land, it takes three years to become certified for organic production from that land. It's very difficult to buy in sheep that have been run organically -- you really need to build up your own self-replacing flock. "And with sheep, the decisions you make today -- especially with breeding -- you will see the results of five years down the track." Judi adds that a lot of organic farming is carried out by smaller farmers with intensive operations, not usually involving wool production. Asked if organic fibres are a fashion trend or a long-term customer desire, Mr Burden says the answer is still unclear. "At Marks & Spencer we are treating it Organic wool an emerging new market Demand for environmentally friendly products is creating a new market for organic wool -- the challenge for Australia is to be able to produce enough of it 6RETAIL TRENDS BEYOND THE BALE Passing the test: Eddie Yeung from Ferney Spinning Mills checks the Ungers' organic wool. PHOTOS: KELLIE PENFOLD
Aug 07 - Sep 07 Supplement
Jun 07 - Jul 07 Supplement