Burton to reopen meatworks

Melissa WilliamsCountryman

Northern WA sheep and goat producers are expected to benefit from the reopening of the Gingin meatworks in mid-July after a 17-month closure.

Broome pastoralist Jack Burton bought the abattoir, situated on 120 hectares west of Gingin, early this year.

He has undertaken significant maintenance work and from July 16 will start processing mutton, lamb and goats under the trading name Yeeda Australian Rangelands Meat.

The export-accredited meatworks at Gingin should provide an opening for livestock from northern producers, after Geraldton Meat Exports (GME) closed its doors in April for the traditional winter slowdown period.

Speculation that GME had closed its doors permanently was quashed by manager Paul Jones this week.

He said the facility was experiencing a normal winter shutdown due to difficult trading conditions and lack of stock, mainly goats that were not being trapped at this time of year and low sheep numbers.

"I have stock from Christmas that I haven't sold, as overseas market conditions are difficult," he said.

Mr Jones said a company directors meeting was scheduled for Friday this week and he anticipated there would be a focus on dealing with high costs expected for the coming year.

"The carbon tax will have a big impact on us - already we have trucking companies indicating prices will go up 4-8 per cent," he said. "The Australian dollar is making things difficult. It has gone up 4 per cent in the past five days."

GME has been a major goat meat processing facility in WA.

Mr Burton said he would have the capacity to process 800 to 1000 goats and sheep per day at Gingin, depending on supply and demand.

He said initially he expected the plant would operate at less than full capacity and the bulk of stock would be supplied by his Yeeda Pastoral Company, which owns several pastoral stations in the Kimberley and properties north of Geraldton.

Mr Burton said his business model for the Gingin meatworks was centred on forming direct supply relationships with sheep and goat producers and would be profit-driven.

"Conditions have been hard in the processing industry in WA and we need to claw back some recent losses," he said.

"We do not want ourselves to be in a position where a lot of processors that have had financial hardship have been. To ensure this does not occur, we will strive for control of our supply chain and we will not be going into the market and buying at the highest price."

Mr Burton said several export markets had been secured for about half of the volume of anticipated stock going through the Gingin abattoir when it reopened.

He said he expected limited demand from the domestic market and would concentrate efforts on overseas sales.

Meat processed through Gingin will be branded Australian Rangelands Meat and some lamb product will be sold as Blue Bush Lamb.

Peter Trefort, who started Hillside Abattoir that went into voluntary administration last November and is now being wound-up, is an adviser to Yeeda Australian Rangelands Meat and is expected to play an integral role in ensuring quality assurance systems are put in place at the Gingin meatworks.

In future, the Gingin abattoir could also process northern beef from Yeeda Pastoral Company in conjunction with the company's beef abattoirs planned for Broome and Derby.

A pilot processing plant on Mr Burton's Kilto station on the outskirts of Broome has almost been completed and when operational will have capacity to kill four to 10 head per day.

The plant was expected to process the company's cattle, which would be exported under the Kimberley Free Range Beef brand, and was the forerunner to a bigger abattoir planned for Yeeda station in Derby.

The Derby facility would have capacity for 350 head of cattle per day, of which half was likely to be sourced internally from Yeeda Pastoral Company properties and the balance from external pastoralists within a 1000km radius.

"It will be a valuable market alternative for northern pastoralists," Mr Burton said.

"We don't see ourselves competing with live exports because we will take cattle that don't suit the Indonesian market.

"I expect we will be processing manufacturing animals that are over 350kg and older cows, as well as niche, high-value product."

Mr Burton said he anticipated the Yeeda abattoir would start operations in mid-to-late 2013 and the company had recently started its necessary regulatory processes.

He said Yeeda would provide an alternative processing option for WA's northern pastoralists to the Australian Agricultural Company's planned beef abattoir south of Darwin.

"We are investigating whether we introduce a quality assurance program - similar to Q Lamb - and how we can best involve producers in direct supply alliances," he said.

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