THE $4 million boning room, refrigeration and power upgrade nearing completion at WAMMCO’s Katanning plant will not only increase its capacity for more value adding of existing product, but also provide new scope for the co-operative to process live shipping and other categories of livestock if required.
Katanning manager Tony Bessell said the upgrade would increase the flexibility and versatility of the plant’s processing, packaging and freezing systems to keep WAMMCO ahead of likely changes in demand for the sheep industry.
“It will mean that we will have the ability to increase the range and volume of value added product for existing markets, or to provide viable options to manage future changes in the supply volumes of possibly lighter, heavier or older categories of sheep,” Mr Bessell said.
“We will be utilising a recent power upgrade to increase vacuum packing capacity by 35 per cent and to further enhance use of the VRT refrigeration system installed in 2016.
“These improvements have also been complemented by major changes to conveyor systems in the boning room.”
The upgrades have been going without hitch, with about 50 local contractors and trades on site since the shutdown started in July.
Mr Bessell said the upgrade did not include plans for conversion of the plant’s existing effluent treatment ponds to a more environmentally friendly biogas system that would also generate a significant proportion of the plant’s power needs.
He said WAMMCO chief executive officer Coll MacRury was due to finalise a contract with ReNu Energy at the end of July for a bioenergy/solar project at Katanning, similar to one now successfully operating at the co-operative’s Southern Meats plant at Goulburn, New South Wales.
“This new system is expected to cut power costs by up to 50pc during peak shoulder periods, as well as insulating us against the cost of power blackouts,” Mr Bessell said.
“Apart from also reducing our overall carbon footprint, it will also reduce odour and improve waste water quality for irrigation and other uses.”
Katanning is expected to re-open after the shutdown with a shortage of labour continuing to pose one of the plant’s most serious problems.
“We could employ 30 extra new unskilled people immediately to complement our 300-strong workforce,” Mr Bessell said.
“They would be offered permanent jobs and training and could expect to earn an annual income of around $50,000pa with overtime and other incentives.
“But despite high unemployment rates in the Great Southern of six per cent overall, 16pc youth unemployment and 30pc for Aboriginal people, we have so far been unable to attract the staff we need.
“Visas for overseas workers remain complicated with red tape and high costs for education and training that exceed the cost of hiring Australian workers.”
The lairage at Katanning will re-open for livestock deliveries on Sunday, July 22, ready for the resumption of processing on Monday, July 23 and re-opening of the boning room on Tuesday, July 24.