Moral fibre

24.11.20

Australia’s mohair industry is a small player compared to the likes of wool but it’s still looking to kick major goals on the sustainable playing field.

A mohair suit isn’t cheap. At a cost of around $4,000, it’s a celebration suit and one a buyer expects to last for more than a season. Increasingly, too, those buyers want to know the story behind that beautiful shine and to be assured the animals, farms and workers involved in the suit’s journey were all kindly and sustainably cared for.

South Africa, the world’s largest mohair producer, has established a framework of sustainability benchmarks so they can provide those assurances. As a result, Australia is making sure it won’t be left behind with ambitious plans to ensure it meets customer demands by following sustainability standards, whether national or international, “by the end of the next clip”.

Mohair in Australia is a minnow compared to the whale that is wool. Few farmers have more than 1000 goats and the industry only produces 50 – 60 tonnes of mohair a year. However, says Nick Gorrie, President of Mohair Australia Ltd, who runs 700 animals on his 375-acre stud in the Hills of Hall region just outside the ACT border, it’s a market that can grow.

“We have an ageing farmer population in the angora goat business and this new approach will help us explain to younger farmers why they may be well suited to angoras, especially on those intergenerational mixed farms with four or five children taking over different parts of the enterprise. It will provide them with a valuable framework in which to do business.”

It’s not just the ethics that will appeal, he continues, showing the international markets that Australian mohair is produced in a sustainable manner can boost premiums by up to 15 per cent. Recently, adds Nick, a German buyer bought mohair at three times the normal price. “It was superior mohair, but we leveraged the new SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) as part of the sale.”

Potentials and pitfalls

That’s why he’s feeling excited as the industry begins working through the AgriFutures Australia commissioned report Australian Sustainable Goat Fibre Production: Guidelines and begins discussions on potential benchmarks.

“The fashion brands and mohair buyers do want a level of certification, so we need to think about how to provide that,” explains Nick. “But first we need a base framework, which these guidelines provide.”

The report was produced by Schuster Consulting Group. Angela and Peter Schuster have spent the past ten years working in the SDGs space and are clear about the potentials and pitfalls.

“The United Nations SDGs do seem to be the way the world is moving and it’s important not to get left behind,” says Angela. “However, I would like to see more qualification around some of the demand we’re hearing about from customers.”

In part, Australian mohair already has that driver. South Africa is our biggest mohair market and since adopting their own sustainability program only want to buy fibre from those with similar programs in place. However, because the Australian industry is comparatively small it must be smart, advises Peter. “Mohair producers have to work out the cost of the next steps and clearly define the market opportunity and the driver for it.”

Peter says, given the Australian mohair industry is already in the LPA (Livestock Production Assurance) program and NLIS (National Livestock Identification System), it may be that the Australian industry is already doing what is required by the market in terms of SDGs.

If, however, the market requires more, such as third party specifications or adherence to specific standards, establishing these standards and then auditing them is likely to be expensive and growers will have to do a cost benefit analysis.

Weighing up the balance

“As an example, if mohair sells for $40 a kilo if you’re part of a program and $20 if you’re not, but it costs $30 a kilo to be part of the program, you’re arguably better off not being in the program,” says Peter. “However, if you don’t have a market because you aren’t in a program, then you may have to go down this pathway.”

“The mohair industry will need to get together to work out what’s best for their members and not just a minority of large growers. It will need more research.”

Nick Gorrie with mature Angora bucks

 

Angela has worked with the beef industry which, along with the dairy industry, has put in formal frameworks for SDGs.

Encouragingly, the experience taught her that reporting doesn’t need to be onerous. Red tape is a major gripe for farmers and the beef industry endeavoured not to create too much of it.

“A lot of people think SDGs will create extra work or programming,” she adds, “but as the AgriFutures Australia’s United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: Telling Australia’s Rural Industries Story  report demonstrated, many industries are already doing work that could be reported, they just don’t do it through the SDG lens.”

Mohair moves on to the next step

Meanwhile Nick is preparing to meet with his fellow growers and encourage them into likeminded groups to discuss the next steps. The Schusters’ report already puts them in a good position, he says.

The guidelines it proposes on issues such as animal welfare and land care can be put in place instantly and they have a valuable tool to help develop the standards, rules and answers to questions a responsible mohair industry will need to provide. He likes the idea of a Pure Australian Mohair label which helps provide the provenance message consistently recommended by AgriFutures Australia.

“I’m glad we did this because the market has started to shift in terms of demanding sustainability credentials in the past six months. So if we hadn’t started the process we’d have been left behind,” says Nick

“The fashion brands and mohair buyers do want a level of certification so we have to think how to get to that next level and to decide if we want our own standard or to comply with international standards.”

He thinks the latter is achievable in as little as a year but agrees: “We’ve got to understand what the buyers and customers want rather than just producing what we think is good.”

Development goals

The Australian Sustainable Goat Fibre Production Guidelines aim to enable producers to meet the highest standards across the board, including those areas covered by the UN SDGs, this includes:

  • Animal welfare: appropriate infrastructure, nutrition and grazing, handling, fibre harvesting, management, and transport
  • Economic resilience: sustainable productivity and profitability.
  • Environmental stewardship: land management to improve or maintain soil, water, vegetation and biodiversity values.
  • Employment: fair, safe and equitable employment conditions.

Learn more about the SDGs and how they can apply to your industry.