Sourcing the good earth

Carbon positive cotton from Moree is featuring in select R.M.Williams apparel.

Story + photos Mark Muller

A gentle wind rustles through the cotton bolls in the neat and ordered fields of Sundown Pastoral Company’s 10,600ha Keytah aggregation, some 40km west of Moree in northern NSW. Keytah was bought by Sundown in 1984 and has since grown to be one of the largest cotton producing properties in the country – turning off up to 78,000 bales of carbon positive cotton a year under the Good Earth Cotton brand.

The scale is impressive, but even more exciting for Sundown owners David and Danielle Statham are the underpinning regenerative agriculture principles at play that see the operation standing as one of the most sustainable and innovative examples of its type in the world.

A bus with a group of people from various clothing brands, knitting mills and Sundown colleagues is pulled up on the side of the road as David talks about the work being done.

ABOVE: R.M.Williams sustainability and CSR manager Carli Davis with Fibretrace CEO Shannon Mercer and co-founder David Statham

“Carbon positive means we’re actually sequestering more carbon than we’re emitting through the life cycle of the plant.”

“This is independently verified through the University of Queensland. We manage our land with minimal external inputs, an eye to diversity of wildlife and plants, minimal tilling and careful integration of crop rotation and cover crops – we’re actually regenerating the soils we use. And we’re always looking to improve systems. Water usage, for example, is a vital part of the operation, and we’re now generating two bales of cotton per megalitre of water used, which is up from 0.8 of a bale per megalitre.”

ABOVE: Sundown Pastoral’s Danielle and David Statham.

R.M.Williams’ sustainability and CSR manager Carli Davis is among the industry professionals visiting Keytah. She is quietly impressed by both the passion and transparency that are evident in the Stathams’ endeavours. “It’s excellent to see their focus on the health of the broader ecosystem,” Carli says. “Their commitment to the improvement of biodiversity on-farm, including increased populations of native species and large wildlife corridors, and the responsibility they’re taking for things like the health of local waterways, point to the value they place on important outcomes that transcend the immediately commercial.”

Danielle explains that the provenance chain of their cotton is secured via a technology they’ve developed called Fibretrace, which utilises a luminescent pigment embeded into strands of fibre that then allows it to be measured and mapped. “Fibretrace enables you to use a handheld scanner to audit the fibre at every stage, from manufacture to sale,” she says. “This is all added to a blockchain and gives you full transparency on the life cycle of a garment.”

R.M.Williams is using Good Earth Cotton grown on Keytah and knitted in ABMT Textiles’ Melbourne facility in special 90th anniversary T-shirts. “Provenance, traceability, sustainability and quality are keystones for R.M.Williams,” says the company’s design director, Rachel Allen.

“The opportunity to work with and support Good Earth Cotton – particularly through utilising their fibre as part of our 90th anniversary celebrations – is a great example of this.”