[ASC-media] Media release: 'green sheep' to emerge from drought

JCA Media jca.media at starclass.com.au
Mon Nov 20 06:14:10 CET 2006

Australian Sheep Industry CRC Media Release

20 November 2006-for immediate release


The 'Green Merino', a much more productive sheep with a lower environmental impact, could be one of the hidden benefits to emerge from the current drought.

Researchers at the Australian Sheep Industry Cooperative Research Centre (Sheep CRC) are perfecting a technology that could significantly reduce the impact of sheep on the landscape - while providing better returns to growers and to the nation.

"Worldwide, consumers are demanding that all forms of farm production become more "green"- and Australia's wool industry is perfectly poised to earn that accolade," says Sheep CRC CEO Professor James Rowe.

"The secret lies in the fact that one sheep is much more productive than another and if we can select only the most productive to breed from, we can in future run fewer, more profitable sheep with a reduced environmental impact."

Technology devised by the Sheep CRC is enabling commercial woolgrowers to confidently pinpoint the most profitable sheep in their flock for the first time in history-and make the right decisions when choosing which to keep and which to cull.

"Large numbers of sheep are being cleared off farms as the drought intensifies.  While this can be a depressing experience, it is also an opportunity to boost the productivity of the entire flock by keeping only the best for flock rebuilding when the drought breaks."

By retaining sheep that are two or three times more profitable, the future wool industry can run fewer animals, reducing its environmental impact and positioning itself better to cope with future droughts expected under climate change, Prof Rowe says.

"Australia's 30,000 woolgrowers between them look after 85 million hectares of the continent, from the high rainfall belt to the arid inland.

"They manage around 25 per cent of agricultural land area, which compares with 58million ha or only 8 per cent of the landmass managed by all the National Parks put together.

"If that area wasn't grazed, it would be a haven for weeds and feral animals, which would do untold harm to native species, so woolgrowers play a very important stewardship role over natural resources in the total Australian landscape.

"In the past the wool industry tended to be about running the most animals the country would carry at the time-and this often led to overgrazing.

"But with the advent of the new selection technologies, the accent can now shift toward smaller, far more profitable flocks, which have lower costs, higher income and a much-reduced impact on the environment," he explains.

Farmers that approach grazing management with the concept of "green Merinos" will be slower to get into a drought-and quicker to get out of it, because the pasture base will remain intact longer even under dry conditions. They will be more resilient in recovery when the rains return.

Through cutting-edge research programs like Australian Wool Innovation's Land Water and Wool the industry is already exploring ways to reduce its environmental impact and increase its sustainability. It is using sheep grazing as a way to restore landscape which has been damaged by salinity and to bring back native pastures in some areas.

"So while nobody likes a drought and it is intensely painful for many, if this one gives rise to the "green Merino" it will be a major future benefit in both economic and environmental terms, Prof. Rowe says.

"In this way we are also positioning the Australian wool industry for emerging global consumer demand for green products from agriculture".  

James Rowe, CEO, Australian Sheep Industry Cooperative Research Centre, ph 02 6776 1465 or 0418 810 130; james.rowe at csiro.au 
Deb Maxwell, Sheep CRC, 02 6773 3597 or 0407 376 463
deborah.maxwell at une.edu.au

Web: http://www.sheepcrc.org.au/ 

More information about the ASC-media mailing list