Australian woolgrowers and the wool-growing industry is exploring the most effective solutions to mitigating methane, improving the eco-credentials of Merino wool from farm through to finished product, the use phase and ultimately end-of-life of the garment.
The global fashion and textiles industry contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. The production, transportation and care of clothing all generate greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide.
What is Methane?
Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. It is produced by a variety of sources, including fugitive emissions from mining and fracking as well as the digestive systems of ruminant animals such as sheep. When sheep consume grass, microbes in their stomachs break down the cellulose and release methane as a by-product. This is known as enteric fermentation.
Reducing Methane Emissions in the Australian Wool Industry
The Australian wool industry is committed to reducing the level of methane emissions. The Woolmark Company’s parent body is proactively investing in research into reducing and offsetting methane emissions generated at the on-farm stage of Merino wool production.
Current research shows that methane emissions from sheep can fall by as much as 80% by adding a small amount of the seaweed Asparagopsis to the sheep’s diet.
Red algae Asparagopsis seaweed has been found to reduce sheep methane emissions. PHOTO: Courtesy Sea Forest.
How seaweed and sheep can tackle climate change
Research has identified methane-mitigating feed supplements for grazing sheep as having significant potential to reduce the carbon footprint of wool within the next 10 years.
This involves feeding sheep supplements, such as the red algae Asparagopsis seaweed, to reduce methane emissions.
Asparagopsis grown by Sea Forest in Tasmania, Australia. PHOTO: Courtesy Sea Forest
Multiple studies are under way on the main wool-growing regions of Australia to identify the most efficient way to deliver methane-mitigating additives to grazing sheep. Results from pen studies point to methane emissions falling by up to 80% when sheep consume Asparagopsis, from producers such as Sea Forest, as part of a controlled diet. The next challenge is to develop techniques to deliver the product to sheep in grazing systems and assess the mitigation impact.
How woolgrowers can reduce their emissions
Australian woolgrowers play a pivotal role in combatting climate change, by implementing sustainable practices on their farms. Many woolgrowers work hard to leave the land in a better condition for future generations. Work is underway to develop techniques to cost-effectively monitor and measure the environmental health of their farm. The Woolmark Company is investing in research to provide Australian woolgrowers with tools and resources to enhance their farm’s natural capital. The focus is on techniques that sequester carbon in the soil and vegetation, as well as increasing biodiversity.
Farming for the Future
A new ecological assessment process, called Natural Capital Accounting, is being developed to enable woolgrowers to track the environmental health of their farm.
The Farming For the Future projects aims to clarify the relationship between enhancing on-farm natural capital and biodiversity and the financial performance of the farm over time. It also aims to develop tools and resources to make the evidence base relevant and accessible for woolgrowers.
Learn more about Natural Capital Accounting for wool-growing, here.
Carbon Storage Partnership
Evidence is growing that biodiversity improves as carbon sequestion increases. The Carbon Storage Partnership will provide regionally relevant pathways for Australian woolgrowers to improve their natural capital and sequester carbon. It aims to provide baseline data for biophysical, economic and environmental status of the case study regions, and then provide regionally relevant adaptations to store carbon and improve biodiversity on farm.
The Carbon Storage Partnership aims to:
- Benchmark and compare the effects of grazing and soil management, planting trees and holistic farm management across wool-growing farms.
- Co-design tools that allow improvement in natural capital, biodiversity, profitability, productivity and reduction of net farm greenhouse gas emissions for specific regions across Australia.
- Educate Australian farmers on the most effective way to improve the natural capital of their enterprise mix.