World-first sustainability scorecard for sheep and wool industry released in Australia

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Meat & Livestock Australia

The first Annual Report of the Sheep Sustainability Framework (SSF) will today be released at the Australian Sheep and Wool Show in Bendigo delivering on the world-first commitment of the Australian sheep and wool industry to create a data-driven yearly snapshot of sustainability performance.

Led by Sheep Producers Australia (SPA) and WoolProducers Australia (WPA), the SSF is underwritten by four 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.

Within those themes are nine focus areas and 21 priorities—monitored and measured by 58 data-driven indicators.

SSF Sustainability Steering Group (SSG) Chair and respected livestock veterinarian, Dr Scott Williams, said the Annual Report creates an important foundation for the sheep and wool value chain and its stakeholders.

“This is a major milestone for the Australian sheep and wool industry,” Dr Williams said.

“We are the largest producer and exporter of premium quality fine wool and the largest exporter of sheep meat in the world.

“We are now one of the most transparent sheep and wool industries as well.

“From reducing greenhouse gas emissions and climate change adaptation to animal husbandry practices and on-farm safety, the Annual Report is a documented baseline on how we as an industry are performing.”

CSIRO research last year found the Australian sheep meat industry was already climate neutral and the latest Annual Report shows the sheep meat and wool industry has held steady on net emissions (9.13 million tonnes CO2e in 2019).

In further good news, Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) data reveals that productivity gains have driven the emissions intensity of raising sheep (6.8kg CO2e/kg liveweight) and greasy wool (24.4kg CO2e/kg greasy wool) down nine per cent between 2005 and 2020.

Rates of ground cover have improved with 63.4pc of sheep-grazing land achieving over 50pc ground cover since summer 2019—a 13pc increase on the previous year.

The industry also continues to invest in seeking new and innovative ways to assist the red meat industry meet its target of carbon neutrality by 2030 (CN30) and helping Australia reduce its overall greenhouse gas emissions.

Worms and breech flystrike are among the most important health challenges for the industry and genetic improvement is a means to prevent disease, with a key measure of success being the change in Australian Sheep Breeding Value (ASBV) over time—specifically Worm Egg Count (WEC) and Early Breech Wrinkle (EBWR).

A reduction of 10pc in WEC ASBV and 15pc in EBW ASBV in the latest reporting period indicates that flock resistance to worms and breech flystrike is increasing.

The industry is also trending away from mulesing, with a directional increase in non-mulesed and ceased-mulesed wool as a proportion of the total clip recorded from National Wool Declaration results in FY2021.

More definitive data will be released in the mid-year update of the Annual Report including the percentage of producers who mules Merino sheep and non-Merino sheep.

Independent Chair of the SSF Board and sheep producer, Lucinda Corrigan, said the Annual Report was an evolving document with more indicators under development, but the inaugural edition already contains a number of firsts.

“In order to be able to create the data needed for the Annual Report, we undertook a Life Cycle Assessment of the entire Australian flock to determine the carbon footprint of our industry,” she said.

“We also harnessed satellite imagery to measure and display vegetation changes across our sheep-grazing regions.

“The deep insights generated from these projects represent an important development in our understanding of the impacts on and of our 234-year-old industry.”

Today’s official launch of the Annual Report will feature a panel discussion on the interconnectivity between climate, biosecurity and market access with commentary from Professor Richard Eckard (University of Melbourne), Dr Andrew Whale (Australian Veterinary Association), Laura Timmins (Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry), Bonnie Skinner (Sheep Producers Australia) and Jo Hall (WoolProducers Australia).