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Life on the land in Australia

Australia’s Top End beef back in business

We want Northern Australia to grasp the opportunity of being a supplier of high quality food

AN unheralded weekend appearance by the Prime Minister to cut the ribbon on Australian Agricultural Company’s (AACo) Livingstone Beef abattoir, south of Darwin, officially signals that the Top End is seriously back in the meat processing business.

While Mr Abbott was on hand to officially open the $93 million meatworks, which started processing cattle in October, AACo chairman Don McGauchie said the company had never seen business opportunities of their current magnitude in the 95 years that AACo had been investing in the Northern Territory.

“Asia’s growing middle class is projected to number 3.2 billion by 2030 – and expected to double the region’s food consumption by 2050,” Mr McGauchie said.

“As a consequence, we are on the cusp of an export bonanza.”

Last week, the first two containers of meat to be exported from the facility left for Hong Kong. More are scheduled to be shipped to Papua New Guinea, the vanguard of a continuous stream of meat, hides and rendered goods that AACo plans to ship from Darwin into Asia and the United States.

Mr McGauchie said the recent trade agreements with Japan, Korea and China would open up further market opportunities for the facility.

“We want Northern Australia to grasp the opportunity of being a supplier of high quality food for Asia’s middle class and really become Australia’s own land of opportunity,” he said.

AACo chief executive, Jason Strong, said unless new opportunities appeared in the domestic market, the proportion of product from Livingstone Beef destined for export is expected to be “in the high ninety percent”.

New opportunity for producers

This week also marks a turning point for the other end of the supply chain.

AACo is likely to mostly process its own cattle – asked to have a stab at a split, Mr Strong guessed 60 per cent AACo, 40pc external cattle – but this week, it starts talking with external suppliers.

Cattle will be bought for Livingstone Beef on an over-the-hooks grid, or a linked liveweight grid. Live cattle will be held at Pell, a property about 50 kilometres south of the new abattoir, bought especially for the purpose by AACo and under development with yards and weighbridge.

Mr McGauchie said producers who sold cull stock to Livingstone Beef had an opportunity that hadn’t existed in the north for decades.

“Having a state-of-the-art facility like Livingstone Beef in the north means that producers who had once held on to cattle because they were not suitable for live export and it was too expensive to ship to the east coast can now substantially improve their herds.”

Out on AACo’s northern stations, there is an anxious wait for a last burst from the monsoon.

Many stations got off to a terrific start with early storm rain, Mr Strong said, and another 75-100 millimetres would set them up for a “really good result”.

But without a guarantee that rain will come through, the company is also starting to plan its stock movements in the event of a drier than hoped for dry season.

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Henry Sapiecha

February 26th, 2015
Topic: Cattle, Northern Territory Tags: None

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