Superfine woolgrowers awarded for their sustainable farming commitments

Kristen Frost@krisifrost
7 Nov 2018, 6:30 p.m

Peter and Rosemary McNeill of Europambela, Walcha, are the perfect example of the type of woolgrower Reda want to source their superfine Merino wool from. 

Peter and Rosemary McNeill, "Europambela", Walcha with Francesco Botto Poala, Reda (right) and Fabrizio Botto Poala, Reda.

Peter and Rosemary McNeill, "Europambela", Walcha with Francesco Botto Poala, Reda (right) and Fabrizio Botto Poala, Reda.

Not only does their 15.4–micron Merino wool clip meet the top quality fleece line Reda requires to make their worsted fabrics to make luxury suiting sold all around the world, they have the sustainable story to go with it. 

Their commitment to a more environmentally friendly way of farming was recognised recently when they were presented the Reda Sustainability Award.

Going green on-farm and producing a sustainable product ins’t a fly-by-night idea by the McNeill’s, it has been a project in the making, with a massive tree planting program initiated in their early years at Europambela and more recently, ventures such as filter zones along creeks beds and bores with solar panels have been undertaken. 

Currently in their third year of their five year contract with Reda, the McNeill’s run a 16,000 head self-replacing superfine Merino flock across three properties encompassing over 7000 hectares. 

In a good year their superfine Merinos would cut enough wool to fill more than 300 bales or better, but because of the continuing drought, this year bale numbers were reduced to around 270. 

On the cusp of semi-retirement, Mr McNeill has been breeding superfine wool since 1969 – the year he first took on the management role of the family company at Europambela.

He said leaving the superfine wool industry when it wasn’t the ‘in flavour’ would have wiped out a lifetime of work. 

“The reason you stick with anything in the bush is when you can still make some money out of it,” Mr McNeill said. 

“The last few years especially it hasn’t been the flavour, and the profit hasn’t been that great.

“But it is the sort of thing if you gave it away now, it would take you a lifetime to get back to where we are.” 

The practise of mulesing was ceased 10 years ago, and although Mr McNeill said they haven’t had a real wet year since the change, he said ‘so far, so good’. 

“We are breeding away from a lot of wrinkle, so we don’t expect any problems in the future, even if we do get some wet years,” he said.

“Because we breed a superfine wool, they don’t open up as much on the back and in wet weather they don’t get fleece rot, so there is not a lot of hope for flies.”

During lamb marking pain relief is administered to minimise any trauma to the lamb as well as providing a better recovery and more effective mothering-up period. 

When Mr McNeill became manager at Europambela in the late 1960s, the entire property had been cleared of timber. 

Over the years he has replanted pines and more recently added eucalyptus and native trees to the mix. 

“The pines gave the eucalyptus some shelter and also seemed to harbour a lot more wildlife which seemed to control the grubs and insects that were killing the initial eucalyptus plantings earlier,” Mr McNeill said. 

Current projects include the repair along the river and creek banks and the implementation of filter zones. 

Three solar pumps have been placed at the rivers or larger water holes to pump water to higher ground and gravitate the water back to trough systems.

“We can then take the rivers and creeks out of the watering system  – they will be treated as an emergency drought watering source,” Mr McNeill said. 

He said by fencing the rivers and creeks off, grasses can grow and eventually they become a potential ‘hay shed’ in hard times.  

“This has been ongoing for the last 15 years,” Mr McNeill said.

“These sort of things you can only do when you have the time and money, but we are slowly getting there.

“Every year is another year closer.”