Production standards: Voluntary wool-based quality assurance program provides market opportunity
As the demand for consumer knowledge of where products come from and how they are produced increases, many agricultural organizations are focusing on how providing additional information about production systems within the industry may benefit producers.
“On the ranch, we are always thinking about how we can make things better and how we can get the most out of practices we are already doing in production,” said American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) Wool Production and Specialty Markets Consultant Heather Pearce. “This same theory goes for American Wool Assurance (AWA).”
Increased quality assurance and traceability provides American sheep and wool producers an opportunity to gain access into higher-end markets and allows products to find their way into the hands of consumers who pay for production accountability. Additionally, Pearce notes, AWA recognizes producers’ reputation and pride in raising livestock.
Developed by ASI and Colorado State University with considerable industry input, AWA provides a set of wool production standards to ensure global markets American wool is produced using high standards of care. Other resources for the program include key sheep production guidelines such as the Sheep Safety and Quality Assurance Program (SSQA), the Sheep Production Handbook and the ASI Sheep Handling Video.
“The standards look at year-round care, and includes everything from management to nutrition and handling, health, docking and castration, predation and shearing,” Pearce said.
Pearce shared, AWA standards reflect the Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare international standards, which include: freedom from hunger and thirst, freedom from discomfort, freedom from pain, injury or disease, freedom from fear and distress and freedom to express normal behavior.
In addition, the free AWA certification is offered at three levels and designed so that any operation producing wool may participate accordingly based on their level of production.
“The first level is education and includes online educational courses,” Pearce shared. “Courses include standards, good handling and care practices and SSQA.”
“Level two is process-verified,” she explained. “Producers complete the educational courses, as well as develop a plan and keep records pertaining to these standards and undergo evaluation on their compliance to standards.”
Pearce noted level three is very similar to level two, but involves certification through a third party.
“All of these different levels of certification are to help producers, wherever they feel they fit,” said Pearce.
Benefits and resources
“We are looking at AWA as another opportunity to share our story,” said Pearce. “Programs standards are likely things producers are already doing.”
Certification at levels two and three provide producers the opportunity to mark wool bales, including a production number associated with their operation. Through this code, Pearce noted, producers can make information about their practices and records available at their discretion.
“I encourage producers to talk to buyers or warehouses about traceability programs or demand for standard-based wool,” said Pearce. “Hopefully, any operation will see some value in this program.”
Averi Hales is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.