11 Feb 2021

Wool brands push for regenerative farming

From Nine To Noon, 9:09 am on 11 February 2021

Four major New Zealand Wool brands are banding together to try and reduce the environmental impact of sheep farming. The New Zealand Merino Company, Icebreaker, Allbirds and Smartwool have announced this week they are creating a new system to buy from regenerative wool farmers. 

The ZQrx programme is launching with 167 sheep farmers who are trying new things to make their farms active regenerative.

It's an upgrade on an existing ZQ structure which measures the sustainability of wool farms. The New Zealand Merino Company says sustainability isn't enough and active regeneration is required. 

No caption

Photo: NZ Merino Company

Dave Maslen, general manager for markets and sustainability at The NZ Merino Company and Tui Taylor, director of product development and sustainability at Icebreaker joined Kathryn Ryan to discuss the programme.

Maslen says the ZQ programme was first introduced in 2007 and was designed to give brands confidence in the environmental integrity of the wool they purchased and that farms were meeting the highest standards.

“It was also about enabling our brand partners to really confidently communicate with their consumers about how the product was being produced and, in so doing, ascribe value to that way of producing.”

He says it’s been a very successful with more than 120 brands that work with the NZ Merino Company through the programme.

“Fundamentally, it’s enabled us to develop long-term forward contracts for those growers at really strong market prices. Our growers know that two or three years out how much they’re going to get paid for their wool and the type of wool they’re going to need to produce.”

Taylor says sustainability has been in the DNA of Icebreaker since it’s founding 25 years ago so the programme is a no brainer for them.

“Now, we need to go to the next level. Being sustainable means being sustainable, we need to actually be regenerative. We need to actually stop all these greenhouse gas emissions, we need to put back into the soil and make sure our merino fibres have a life beyond this generation and the next.”

Maslen says the ZQ programme already represents the absolute best standard for wool production in the world. ZQrx will require that farms aren’t just sustainable but are actually improving over time.

“We baseline them at a point in time, and then we come back over time to measure their performance and improvement… as part of that, we provide a whole suite of tools and advice for growers to enable them to do that and make those changes.”