A few of the biggest names in Western Australian agriculture have thrown their support behind a new meat cooperative, with hopes it will lead to the northwest’s only abattoir reopening early next year.
- The owners of a mothballed abattoir in the northwest hope to restructure its ownership into a cooperative
- Spudshed owner Tony Galati and prominent pastoralists have voiced support for the formation of the Kimberley Meat Co-op
- It’s hoped the processing facility can reopen again in time for the 2022 season
The Kimberley Meat Company facility, owned by Yeeda Pastoral Company, shut its doors a year ago, as a result of record-high cattle prices, supply shortages and seasonally low US beef trim prices — where about 50 per cent of KMC’s ground beef is exported each year.
Since then, the company has been speaking with 14 industry players about forming the Kimberley Meat Cooperative, including the Galati Group’s retail store Spudshed.
Under this proposed collaborative ownership model, KMC will acquire the mothballed abattoir 100km east of Broome, processing at least 40,000 head of cattle a year.
CEO Tony Galati said it was an exciting opportunity to have access to processing in the northwest, to supply local beef to his 15 retail stores around the state.
Currently, the Galati Group grazes cattle in the northwest, trucking their beef more than 2,500 kilometres to be processed at a facility in Perth.
“We’re very keen to get involved in the abattoir, as we want to promote West Australian beef,” Mr Galati said.
“I think we can be price effective in the Perth market and provide a West Australian product to WA consumers.
“I think everybody cooperates together as a group and has the same direction. I think it will be a great success.”
Local processing a win for pastoralists
The owner of Wagyu giant Pardoo Beef Corporation, Bruce Cheung, agreed there was huge potential to develop the region into a global premium boxed beef player.
His company runs 22,000 head of pure Wagyu and bos indicus cross cattle across four properties in the Kimberley and Pilbara, sending two and a half thousand head to Perth each year to Bunbury-based meat processor, V&V Walsh.
“It doesn’t make a lot of sense to ship cattle 2,000 kilometres down south to be processed,” he said.
“It is important because transportation and all the stress [on the animals] could be minimised.”
Mr Cheong said they could lose up to $500 per beast on transport, finishing and shrinkage costs to process cattle in the south.
“Depending of course on the weight of the cattle [costs] can run between around $200 to $300 per animal. That’s before shrinkage,” he said.
“Once you get out down south you have to figure out a way to rest them [and[ over that period of time there’s also standing fees involved and a little bit of feed involved to bring them back to where they ought to have been.”
However, Mr Cheung said there were some challenges still ahead for his highly prized wagyu beef industry to expand in the north.
He said having grain to feed and finish is an important element of wagyu production and suitable feedlot facilities would need to be established in the region.
Still some challenges ahead
As for investing in the KMC, Mr Cheung said he felt they would need more detail on costs and the management structure to confidently invest.
“For us it’s not a money issue…it’s more who are the players involved…who is going to drive this?” he said.
“I believe in the ability of the current operators but the key is can you consistently put at least 40,000 head evenly year-round through that abattoir?
“I believe that the government wants to see this, industry wants to see this happen and if we could put all our little minute differences aside, and egos aside, this can happen.”
Some of the other players known to have expressed interest in joining the co-operative are Gogo Station, Anna Plains, Country Downs and indigenous-owned Roebuck Plains station.
Each member would own an interest of between 2 per cent and 20 per cent. It would be governed on a “one member, one vote” principle and led by a board appointed by its members.
The processing facility already holds licenses to export product to Canada, the US, European Union countries, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, South Korea, South Africa and Indonesia.
Final approval still to come
Yeeda Pastoral Company executive chairman Mervyn Key said he was confident abattoir’s new ownership structure would be finalised before the end the year.
“This cooperative solution to beef processing will provide pastoralists with a safe, reliable and economic path to market as an alternative to live exporting – while adhering to best animal welfare standards including keeping transportation of livestock to a minimum,” he said.
“The only outstanding issue is to get all the documentation approved by the State Government…and that should certainly be all resolved by the end of November, well in time to start the new season.”
WA Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan met with KMC’s prospective members in Broome yesterday to discuss the formation of the co-operative.
She said the formation of KMC would herald a new era for the northern beef industry.
“Local processing provides a new market for the northern beef industry, creating local jobs in the Kimberley and filling international demand for quality WA beef products,” said Minister MacTiernan.
Plans to reopen abattoir in 2022
The KMC plans to begin operations at the abattoir in early 2022 — a facility which opened with much fanfare less than five years ago.
It was the brainchild of Kimberley pastoralist Jack Burton, the company’s founder, and former chief executive, and became the first major processor to operate in the region since 1993.
At the time, the facility was dubbed as a “game-changer” for the north-west pastoral industry, with the nearest abattoirs more than 2,000 kilometres away in the Northern Territory and southern WA.
Since stepping away from Yeeda Pastoral Company in 2019, he has focused on expanding his own pastoral operations, partnering with a number of Traditional Owner groups.
This year, Mr Burton sought approval from the Shire of Broome to build a small-scale facility to process up to 50 head of cattle a week on Kilto Station.
He told the ABC recently he hoped the micro abattoir would be able to service the premium beef market for local restaurants, stepping away from high-volume exports of ground beef at a time when cattle slaughter levels had hit their lowest in 35 years.
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