Organic Wool

Organic Wool: How we grow and process it

Here at Fuhrmann, we are committed to organic wool.
While wool is already one of the best natural and sustainable fibres, we are taking things a few steps further by growing and processing organic wool.

Organic Wool Farms

Momentarily, Fuhrmann manages some 130,000 sheep across 11 different farms. Fuhrmann is growing rapidly on farm management and expects to reach 300.000 sheep in two seasons. All of our farms are organic or in the process of becoming organic. What does ‘in the process of becoming organic’ mean? It takes a total of 3 (2 with the accelerated process) years for a farm to change from a conventional wool farm to an organic wool farm. This means the farms are already complying with the organic standards but to be fully accepted as organic the standard requires a time frame of 3 years. You can compare it to when you detox your body, it just needs time until your system has completed the detoxing process. It is within Fuhrmann´s core philosophy that all farms run by us are given organic status.

Fuhrmann Organic Wool shearing sheep
  • Low or no chemical impact

    Running a sheep farm organically means that it has the least impact on the environment because products used on farm are controled so that they don’t harm the sheep or the soil.  This results into a fibre that contains the least possible amount of or no chemical traces in the fibre.

  • Higher biodiversity on farm

    Organically managed farms also have greater biodiversity, meaning that the ecosystem of flora and fauna is intact and that many different species are part of the environment.  On our Fuhrmann farms feed is rich enough in nutrients that no supplementary feeding is needed.

  • High animal welfare standards

    One requirement to grow organic wool is to also follow high animal welfare standards.  However, it is also important to understand that organic standards do not audit animal welfare on the farms.  Organic standards merely note the requirement of high animal welfare standards without auditing this aspect.

    With the lack of animal welfare audits, we at Fuhrmann have been studying and implementing our own standards based on the five freedoms.  Fuhrmann is running continuous training sessions and has implemented a Mission statement that is helping us align our effort and resources towards continuous animal welfare improvement.   We believe this is a people-driven initiative, so we work to improve our human resource as well.

  • GOTS certified organic wool processing

    All wool that we wash and comb into tops is processed under the GOTS organic wool standard not matter if the wool comes from an organic farm or a conventional farm. We committed ourselves entirely to the GOTS standard processing system as we think it is the best for our planet.  This means that we only use the GOTS list of approved products which in turn meet certain toxicological and environmental criteria.

  • Low impact

    In summary, this means that we are minimising our impact on the planet as much as possible.  We hope that someday our ‘low impact’ can be turned into a ‘positive impact’ and we will work endlessly towards this ultimate goal.

Organic standards

What organic wool standards are followed to grow and process organic wool?

When talking about organic wool and organic wool standards, you need to distinguish between two things, growing organic wool and processing organic wool.

In general terms, growing organic means that the farm which produces the wool is audited as an Organic Farm in compliance with a number of organic wool standards which may vary from one country to another. This auditing of the farm will entitle the production from that particular farm to be certified Organic. In the case of Fuhrmann, we follow the Argentine National Health Authority´s (SENASA for its Spanish acronym – http://www.senasa.gob.ar/) standards for primary wool production on farms.

For the processing plant, Fuhrmann adopted the Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS for short – http://www.global-standard.org/) which is the world’s most accepted organic wool standard known today for wool tops processing in particular as well as organic textile production in general. Both standards are audited in Fuhrmann’s case by the same private independent certifying agent which is OIA (see http://www.oia.com.ar/).

Growing organic wool in Argentina

The SENASA protocol for primary production is fully recognised by the EU as equivalent to its Organic standards since 1994. The actual SENASA protocol 374-2016 is 178 pages long, dated 14 July 2016 and unfortunately is only available in Spanish. The link is:  http://www.senasa.gob.ar/normativas/resolucion-374-2016-senasa-servicio-nacional-de-sanidad-y-calidad-agroalimentaria

It is worth mentioning that Argentina is regarded as a leading country in Organic standards for primary production worldwide. This is due to that Argentina being an exporting country of many agricultural goods has always embraced and actively developed the organic concept from its very beginning.

Please find below the official OIA Organic wool production criteria that need to be met by organic wool farms in Argentina:

  • Transition period – two to three years are required from the moment a farm starts applying the protocol until it is allowed to sell their produce with Organic label to ensure all traces of non-organic material are natural.
  • Sustainable land management – a periodical study of the grasslands needs to be carried out to ensure that the farms are not being overgrazed. It is from this study that the optimal and sustainable animal number is established and needs to be respected by the farm in subsequent years.
  • Breeding – the suggested breeding method is mounting, although artificial insemination is allowed with limitations and requires notifying the auditor. Other breeding methods are not allowed. Hormonal treatments aren’t allowed either.
  • Supplementary feeding – if supplementary feeding is needed, it will be monitored and needs to be in compliance with a list of allowed feeds.
  • Registering – everything needs to be properly documented so that all the information about the farm management is available on site at any time in case of an unannounced audit takes place.
  • Animal management – general guidelines of animal welfare based on the five freedoms are made although this aspect is not audited.
  • Animal health – animal management needs to be done in a way that it prevents illness by ensuring general animal welfare. All allowed veterinarian products are clearly listed.
  • Transportation – general criteria for transporting livestock is given.

Organic Wool Standards for Processing and Beyond

At Fuhrmann we not only grow organic wool, we also process the wool under GOTS right here in Trelew, the heart of Patagonia. When we speak of processing we mean the washing (also known as scouring) and combing of the wool into so called tops. Tops are the stage before the wool is spun into yarn.

We process the wool here in Argentina because it adds value to our economy, in other words, it provides jobs to our local people here in Trelew.

Once the wool has reached the top making stage it is then shipped to destinations in Europe, Central and South America and Asia where it is further processed into yarn and fabric. What is important to know here is that we work closely with the spinning and weaving companies to ensure the wool is fully traceable until it reaches the shop floor, when this is requested.

Under GOTS Certification, wool processing needs to meet the following criteria:

  • Organic input – greasy wool needs to be sourced from an organically certified farm.
  • Traceability – needs to be ensured by clearly marked storage areas in warehouses both for greasy and processed material and by process auditing as well.
  • Chemical products – approved chemicals need to be in compliance with standards which are the most biodegradable in the industry and in constant evolution.
  • Fair working conditions – all workers in the mill need to be registered and surveys are made to ensure fair treatment of the workforce.
  • Effluent treatment – there has to be an approved method of treating the effluents that are in lines with best possible practices.

Organic Wool at Fuhrmann

At Fuhrmann, we have committed ourselves to growing and processing organic wool since 2008.  Today our entire processing plant operates only in accordance with the GOTS standard. That means that Furhmann uses the same GOTS approved organic chemical products for all its production, no matter if the wool comes from an organic or conventional wool farm.

Reversing Desertification

Another issue we wish to address with you is the topic of desertification. You may have heard news stories talking about desertification which is when fertile land is becoming bare and not covered by grass anymore. The causes of desertification are often climate change and overgrazing. Once the soil is bare, rain can no longer be captured into the ground and runs off which washes out nutrients from the soil turning the ground into a desert.

Research has shown, that when sheep are managed properly they can actually reverse desertification. Through their urine and dung combined with their four little feet, they add nutrients to the soil giving bare grasslands a chance to grow grass again.

This is exactly what we focus on here on our Fuhrmann managed farms. We manage our sheep in such a way that keeps our soils healthy and fertile by avoiding overgrazing of pastures. Research also shows that properly managed sheep also bring back higher levels of biodiversity to the grasslands compared to when the grasslands are left isolated without any livestock. In other words, grasslands need animals to rear on them in order to stay healthy. That is what our sheep especially love doing: rearing in the wilderness of Patagonia.

High social standards

Now that we talked so much about animal welfare we also want to talk about the people that are involved in growing our organic wool.

Rearing sheep and growing wool in Patagonia is at the centre of many livelihoods. Wool provides an important income stream to the local families and communities.  Nature is so dry and rough, and weather conditions so severe down here in Patagonia that rearing sheep is one of the few things you can do with the land. At Fuhrmann, we are proud of working with these local families together and securing them a safe income together with the best possible working conditions.

In compliance with the GOTS organic wool standards all people working on our processing plant are officially registered and those in the farms are too in accordance with what is right to do from our perspective and that of our customers. We comply with all safety regulations, provide regular educational training, and empower our employees because we believe that growth is powered by every worker. We know that a happy, motivated, fairly paid person is a productive and responsible person in the same way as a happy and healthy sheep is a productive sheep. Our social standards have proven to be a pivotal factor in our success in the present. We are very happy to invest more time and resources on this side of the business especially driven by the right partners and clients around the world who share this view, which is closely linked to Organic wool production.

We will be happy to answer any questions you may have about our organic wool. Contact us today and we look forward to talking to you further.

This post is also available in: Spanish