A trio of projects to monitor the sheep industry’s progress to a sustainable future

A trio of projects to monitor the sheep industry’s progress to a sustainable future

June 07 2022
  • Three research projects launched to help track progress and monitor credentials
  • A collaborative effort across industry to ensure best results and return on investment
  • Emissions reduction, animal welfare and groundcover the focus

A trio of projects to monitor the sheep industry’s progress to a sustainable future

THREE research projects have been launched to help track the sheep industry’s progress against the Australian Sheep Sustainability Framework (SSF) and monitor the key credentials of emissions reduction, animal welfare and groundcover.

When the SSF was released in April 2021 it was the culmination of a year of industry-led consultation with the community and prioritised four major themes – Caring for our Sheep; Enhancing the Environment and Climate; Looking After our People, our Customers and the Community; and Ensuring a Financially Resilient Industry.

SSF Sustainability Steering Group (SSG) Chair, Dr Scott Williams, said the next step was to address the gaps in the metrics.

“We can’t monitor or report what we don’t measure,” Dr Scott Williams said.

“These three projects provide us with data that is important for us to describe and demonstrate some key industry sustainability credentials.”

Bonnie Skinner, Chief Executive Officer of Sheep Producers Australia, said the research would drive on-farm practice improvements and help communicate those achievements.

“This evidence base will help ensure the sheep industry has continued access to markets and profitability for Australian sheep businesses,” Ms Skinner said.

“It will also support continuous improvement across the industry, for current and future generations producing sheep meat and wool in an ethical and environmentally, socially and financially responsible manner.”

Importantly, the projects will be completed in collaboration with the beef industry through Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA), providing a unified position and cross-industry guidance.

“As industry bodies we too easily fall into our own silos and look at issues through a singular lens,” Jo Hall, Chief Executive Officer of Wool Producers Australia, said.

“By collaborating with other industries and organisations we are much better placed to reflect what is happening at a farm-gate level, which makes us more relevant and practical to producers.

“It also enables shared learning and better allocation of scarce resources, meaning we are ultimately more efficient in achieving good industry outcomes.”

Emissions Reduction – Lifecycle Analysis (LCA)

This project will identify the emissions of the national sheep flock, examine the global warming potential of methane, and assess and identify new measures and pathways towards low greenhouse gas wool and sheepmeat, to underpin development of science-based targets (SBTs) for consideration by the industry.

“Reducing carbon emissions is the world’s top priority,” Dr Williams said.

“There is a lot of debate and misunderstanding though about the role of ruminants such as sheep and their products in the carbon cycle.

“Currently, the wool industry is fighting for the European Union to recognise the inherent sustainability of wool in comparison to petrochemical-derived fibres such as polyester. An EU initiative, the Product Environmental Footprinting project is built on a life-cycle assessment that currently suggests synthetic fibres are more sustainable than natural fibres including wool.”

The study will also investigate the technical feasibility, cost-benefits, opportunities, risks and barriers to achieving lower emission wool and sheepmeat, along with plausible mitigation strategies.

“By thoroughly assessing the product lifecycle we will have the opportunity to tell customers about the benefits of wool as a natural carbon sink,” Ms Hall said.

“The eco-credentials of wool are an undervalued aspect of our industry and this will assist in telling the great story that we have to tell.”

It is expected the research will be completed by August 2022, with key measures reportable in the July 2022 SSF Annual Report

Welfare – Project Proof

Animal health and welfare are among the most sensitive and critical issues for the Australian sheep and beef industries and both have prioritised the reporting of performance in this area in their respective sustainability frameworks.

Project Proof will deliver on this commitment by tracking key measures that underpin the frameworks and guide Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) and MLA investment across the beef, sheepmeat and wool industries.

Surveys of hundreds of producers will be conducted biennially to establish baseline datasets of on-farm animal health and welfare practices and compare future performance. These reports will be designed to improve the quality, reliability, validity, and defensibility of the data and reveal the drivers, tensions and barriers around relevant animal husbandry behaviours and practices.

“Being able to report on national performance in animal health and welfare signals trust building transparency for customers and consumers, attracts investment in the sector, and offers compelling evidence for successful market access negotiations,” Ms Skinner said.

The sheep study is in field now and will report key measures in the July Annual Report.

Groundcover – Vegetation Mapping

This project will further develop the reports and mapping currently available on the balance of tree and grass cover (BoTGC) dashboard to meet the requirements of the SSF and Australian Beef Sustainability Framework (ABSF) - such as percentage of national forest and woodland cover gain - and put in place ongoing analysis and reporting.

There will be a common interface for SSF and ABSF but also specific reporting pages, maps, and graphs. It will display the vegetation change data and seasonal ground cover imagery as maps, with the ability to select, display and compare individual dates.

“It is challenging to identify metrics to demonstrate how well the sheep industry manages its natural resources, that are able to be monitored easily, cost effectively, and across all production systems,” Dr Williams said.

“Vegetation cover is one such metric. Whilst not a perfect surrogate for soil protection, it provides a partial indication of the management of our soil resource. It can be measured by satellite, which gives a snapshot across all of Australia and can be readily repeated to demonstrate change over time.”

The three projects mark an important step in the future of the beef and sheep industries in Australia and their continued collaboration is vital.

“It makes sense to collaborate on matters of sustainability,” Dr Williams said.

“Few farms run a single enterprise, so producers want, as far as possible, a single set of metrics to describe all aspects of their operations.

“And more broadly, having common metrics across industries provides harmonisation and economies of scale in collecting and reporting data.”

For More Information:

Contact : Sarah Hyland shyland@mla.com.au