Broome abattoir set for April opening

28 Nov, 2015 01:00 AM
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Jack Burton, Yeeda Pastoral Company, is counting down to the opening of the new northern abattoir.
Jack Burton, Yeeda Pastoral Company, is counting down to the opening of the new northern abattoir.

WA'S north needs an abattoir now more than ever.

That is the view of Jack Burton, the man behind plans to have the first abattoir in the area in more than 25 years up and running.

After four years Mr Burton has now marked April 2016 as the date for opening his new abattoir, which will be situated between Broome and Derby.

"It will be pretty exciting for everyone to have the first abattoir up here in 25 years," Mr Burton said.

"Twelve months ago what we probably hadn't nailed down was exactly the scale, capacity and size of the facility and the actual finished product," he said.

"Every time we looked at the plans we enhanced it, reinvested and expanded.

"But about six to eight months ago we locked in exactly what we wanted to end up with.

"We're happy to be finishing up with the facility (design) we've got and in the event of us wanting to expand or change anything we will do that retrospectively.

"We made the decision to complete it and then if something comes up in the short term, we will look at that post-completion, instead of continuing to kick the tin down the road."

Mr Burton hopes the new facility will be processing 1200 to 1300 cattle a week, first using cattle from his own company and then from other northern pastoralists.

"There is a looming supply crisis in the Eastern States and the true impact of the drought is being felt, with plant closures and reduced working days," he said.

"The lack of cattle for slaughter means the availability of beef is low and the demand is so strong.

"What that has done is cement our belief that this part of the world needs a facility and it needs to be able to process and produce its own boxed beef.

"Because of the eastern supply issues, the interest here is inconceivable.

"I am getting calls from people hunting down access to our beef products, due to that supply concern."

The opening of the abattoir will come just in time, as the shortage of supply and high demand continues to grow domestically and globally, said Mr Burton.

"The need for an abattoir is there and will always be there, regardless of whether live export is booming or not," he said.

"There is always a need for a local abattoir to process cattle that just don't suit that live export market.

"It saves us that 3000 kilometre drive and the 50 hour issue of sending cattle south (on trucks)."

Mr Burton's original design for the abattoir was for manufacturing beef, however he said times were changing in the north.

"More than anything our start up will be doing a lot of manufacturing beef, but we are hoping over the next decade, with the focus on the north and investments by some of the big players, industry will be enhanced and in time we will be killing less manufacturing beef and killing more higher quality product," he said.

"We want to increase management or the level of intensification, with more irrigation, more rotational grazing, without buying any more land, which means maximising the land we've already got.

"I think feedlots are essential - the economics work.

"A few years ago our cattle were worth about $1.50 a kilogram and putting a kilogram on them for about $1.70/kg just didn't work, but now our best cattle are worth about $3/kg and putting on a kilogram for about $1.50/kg definitely works.

"The aim of the game is, if you want to increase your turn off numbers, you need to hold back cattle and hold back females.

"What I think people need to look at is how to value add or increase the return on each animal that you turn off.

"So instead of turning something off that's worth $800 for a live export job, why not put it on feed and turn it into a $1600 steer going into the local abattoir."

Mr Burton said northern producers who diversify into irrigation would see benefits from using his facility.

"These guys will get a reward," he said.

"This is because they will be able to get a premium for supplying cattle at the beginning or the end of the season.

"We want people to take cattle on board around August to September, to put them on feed and send them to abattoir right up until Christmas."

Mr Burton said he would plan to close the facility for six weeks over Christmas next year and re-open in February 2017.

"At that time of year, we will be using our own cattle because it will be too wet for trucking, so we will have to walk them in," he said.

"We will process them until the season starts again in 2017."

With the building construction completed, contractors will work until Christmas and into the new year fitting out the facility and installing equipment.

"All the cool rooms are complete, we are just installing the refrigeration and the plant equipment, which is coming out of Perth and some is imported," he said.

"There is a bit of background work that needs to be done on Yeeda, with paddocks, laneways and yards.

"The refrigeration should be done by Christmas, but they will have a few little bits and pieces to do afterwards.

"It looks a million bucks at the moment, we are excited."

Mr Burton said the abattoir will be running at the start of the 2016 cattle season.

He will source cattle from his pastoral stations across the Kimberley, but some of the 70,000 head at Yeeda station will help start the operations.

"This is until we sort out our start-up issues," he said.

"While we are commissioning the plant we will have our own stock and we hope to be at full production quickly and will begin to look at buying other cattle.

"We will start talking to producers about supply straight after Christmas."

Earlier this year Yeeda gained financial backing by a major private equity fund, ADM Capital, based in Hong Kong, to finish the project.

"It was a lot easier to attract funding because of the interest in the beef industry," Mr Burton said.

"Three or four years ago, when we first floated this idea, it was a lot harder sell. The beef story is a lot easier to tell today, compared to then."

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