Hillside woes put industry on edge

Kate MatthewsCountryman

Administrators for Hillside Abattoir are looking to find an investor or buyer to reopen the business after it was placed under voluntary administration more than two weeks ago.

The Narrogin processor hasn't processed any sheep since it shut its doors in August because of low sheep numbers. It's understood to be the first time the Trefort family business has been closed.

Price Waterhouse Coopers administrators Derrick Vickers and Kate Warwick have been appointed and the first creditors meeting was held on November 23.

In a statement, Mr Vickers said they "were working closely with the company directors and management to find an investor or buyer who wanted to reopen the business for trading".

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Industry insiders are hopeful that by the second creditors meeting, on December 16, there will be some positive news for the abattoir which has led the way in providing individual feedback to producers.

WAFarmers meat section president Jeff Murray believes the sheep shortage, high prices and Australian dollar will have affected the business.

Mr Murray said Hillside had been an innovator in the industry but its closure would mean the loss of skilled workers who might look to the mines for employment.

"The key is to get Hillside back up and running and maintain the skilled staff and not lose the innovations, leadership and knowledge that Hillside has brought to the WA industry," he said.

"You don't want to lose any players out of the game. As soon as you lose competition, it doesn't help the industry at all."

The closure is also affecting more than 150 WA sheep producers who market their lamb under the WA Q Lamb banner.

Q Lamb chairman Wayne Leeson said Hillside, particularly Peter Trefort Sr, was instrumental in getting Q Lamb up and running.

"We will just have to see what the outcome of the creditors meeting is before we make any decisions," Mr Leeson said.

This year's sheep shortage has hit processors hard.

Fletcher International extended its annual shutdown and during WAMMCO's shutdown, it investigated shipping lambs from the east.

WAMMCO chief executive Scott Weir said it had been a difficult season but it was soldiering on.

Despite a shortage of lambs, Mr Weir said there was still a good number to come on the market in autumn after being fed on stubbles.

Fletcher International Albany general manager Greg Cross said to watch a local processor go into voluntary administration, after years of time and effort, was something he would not wish on anyone.

Earlier this year, Mr Cross predicted big problems for WA's processing sector after the exodus of livestock to the east which dramatically reduced livestock numbers. He said processors were still hurting.

"I can't see the cost of livestock dropping in the next few years," he said.

But on the positive side, he said strong demand worldwide and high prices per head encouraged farmers to stay in the industry.

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