FAWO News

“We are in a fickle industry, that is easily replaced … We should be responding to what the world wants,” wool grower Michael Blake says.

Lifetime achievement: Hamilton wool grower Michael Blake is an industry trailblazer, breeding for natural worm resistance since 1995, ceasing mulesing in 2005 and developing quality assurance programs for customers.

The FAWO medals recognise those who have made an exceptional and sustained contribution to the Australian wool industry.

Ask Michael why he thinks he was awarded the accolade and he has an exceptionally long list of achievements he can name.

However, he said he didn’t see himself as exceptional, but was an example of what “we all should be doing”.

Michael is breaking with tradition by shearing his sheep twice yearly, to maximise superfine wool growth and give fine suit makers exactly the wool that suits their processing best.
Michael is breaking with tradition by shearing his sheep twice yearly, to maximise superfine wool growth and give fine suit makers exactly the wool that suits their processing best.

He has dedicated his time by giving back to the wool industry in an honorary capacity and has contributed to and developed industry standards and conducted research across a range of topics, including sustainability, quality assurance, biosecurity, animal welfare, environmental stewardship, and occupational health and safety.

He has also contributed to agriculture education, through writing protocols for training and offering traineeships to young people.

Michael operates his 1800ha property, Bally Glunin Park at Hamilton, along with his wife Cathy, where they run about 8500 Merino sheep and 400 Hereford and Limousin cattle.

During the past 40 years he has conducted or been involved in 85 research projects, many contributing to the wool industry.

Michael Blake with some of his SustainaWOOL accredited wool bales. The Integrity Scheme was launched in 2015.Michael Blake with some of his SustainaWOOL accredited wool bales. The Integrity Scheme was launched in 2015.

Michael said his first research project was one conducted on-farm in 1972 looking at worm faecal egg counts.

“There were people advocating to use drench in the spring and summer period every three weeks, and while it seemed to be normal I didn’t think it was sustainable long-term,” he said.

Since then they have conducted drench efficiency testing, every four to five years, this entails a faecal egg count before and after each drench test.

“We still have 100 per cent efficacy in every single dose rate across all drench types,” he said.

In 1995, Michael then started breeding for natural worm resistance and a plainer bodied sheep, and ceased mulesing in 2005.

It was from here Michael became interested in developing a quality assurance program for wool production.

“I was concerned about mulesing and I didn’t want it to disrupt wool sales, so I developed a quality assurance system that would cover non-mulesed and ceased-mulesed wool.

“In 2008 and I took it to the big Italian mills to see if they’d purchase wool under it,” he said.

The development of the National Wool Declaration included parts of Michael’s protocol.

During his time Michael has developed 12 quality assurance programs to use on his farm, including animal welfare, farm safety and biosecurity.

He said he developed them for the “end user”.

“Every product we produced I wanted to look at it as a consumer and how I’d like it delivered to me.”

Among his achievements has been contributing to the development of the SustainaWOOL Integrity Scheme, which was launched in 2015, with the ownership transferred to the Australian Wool Exchange this year.

Michael said he became involved from the very start of SustainaWOOL.

He holds the number 16 certification and was the first farm to sell at auction under the scheme.

He has then made contributions to each update of the scheme.

“I am pleased AWEX has taken it over, there is a great opportunity to make it a national standard,” he said.

Michael said he has continued developing and using quality assurance schemes because the customer drives the ultimate need for change.

“We are in a fickle industry, that is easily replaced,” he said.

“The wool industry makes up 2 per cent of the world textile fibre and Australia produces 85 per cent of that.

“We should be responding to what the world wants.

“I could see these (requests from customers) coming.

“I always tried to be ahead of the field, in trying to anticipate policy and extend that to a particular framework.”

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