EcoWool Canada and Brock University test wool as sustainable soil enhancer

At the entrance of a movie set tourist attraction in Rotorua, New Zealand, this flock of sheep was curiously looking at anybody passing by. At save distance they starred right into the camera, before a car scared them away.

In a novel approach to agriculture sustainability, Jennifer Osborn, the co-owner of a farm that began with just two sheep, has partnered with Brock University to test wool as a potential natural soil enhancer. The project emerged from Osborn’s EcoWool Canada initiative, which seeks to repurpose excess wool into a product that could benefit soil health and, by extension, crop growth.

Nearly two decades after introducing sheep to their farm for the purpose of wool production, Osborn and her partner faced the challenge of managing the surplus wool produced by the expanding flock. Their pursuit of a sustainable way of using the wool led them to discover its potential benefits for soil health, which prompted them to launch of EcoWool Canada. However, Osborn emphasized the need for scientific evidence to substantiate wool’s effectiveness as a soil amendment.

To address this, Osborn turned to Brock University, a key player in the Ontario-based Greenhouse Technology Network (GTN), known for its commitment to advancing sustainable agricultural practices. Professors Liette Vasseur (Biology) and Vaughn Mangal (Chemistry) are at the forefront of this research, conducting experiments to assess the impact of wool pellets on soil health and crop performance. Their work involves comparing the growth of various plants in soil amended with EcoWool pellets against those grown in soil with conventional fertilizers or no amendments.

The research focuses on wool’s rich content of essential elements such as carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, and sulfur, which are known to enhance soil quality. Wool’s physical properties, including its ability to aerate soil, retain moisture, and reduce erosion, are also under examination. The experimental phase includes detailed monitoring of plant growth, water usage, and soil health, with sophisticated analysis of soil and water samples to quantify organic carbon and nitrogen levels.

This collaborative project not only supports Osborn’s innovative venture but also holds promise for the broader agricultural sector. The findings could encourage the adoption of wool pellets as a sustainable alternative to peat moss, a commonly used soil amendment derived from peatlands that take millennia to regenerate. The research aligns with environmental conservation efforts, highlighting the potential of wool pellets to store carbon in the soil and contribute to climate change mitigation.

The Greenhouse Technology Network, supported by a significant investment from the Government of Canada, plays a critical role in fostering innovation and addressing challenges in the Ontario greenhouse industry. This research exemplifies the network’s mission to enhance the sustainability and productivity of agriculture through collaborative, applied research projects.

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