Surat processor hops ahead

Surat processor hops ahead

Agribusiness
Staff at work at Warroo Game Meats in Surat where 1500 kangaroos a week are processed.

Staff at work at Warroo Game Meats in Surat where 1500 kangaroos a week are processed.

Aa

WHILE the many kangaroo works that once provided vital employment across rural Queensland have shut their doors in recent decades, the owners of Warroo Game Meats in Surat have battled hard to keep their business operating.

Aa

WHILE the many kangaroo works that once provided vital employment across rural Queensland have shut their doors in recent decades, the owners of Warroo Game Meats in Surat have battled hard to keep their business operating.

Owned and operated by Les and Haylee Mickelbourgh and Les' mother, Betty, Warroo Game Meats is the last privately owned kangaroo processing facility in Queensland.

The business employs 22 full-time staff and processes 1500 kangaroos a week for the domestic human consumption and pet food markets.

Many harvesters who supply Warroo Game Meats have worked with the Mickelbourghs since the family began operating in the industry as skin traders in the 1980s. Betty's experience in the skins trade led her to set up a small pet food works in Surat after the death of her husband Les, in 1990.

The pet food business prospered and, at its height from 2004 to 2008, was producing 40 tonne of meat a week for the domestic pet food market.

"We really built that business up from nothing and we started to supply product almost exclusively to a large pet food operation," Mrs Mickelbourgh said.

"They indicated that their business was still growing and that they would need even more meat so we bought this site, which was just a rundown old works, with the intension of expanding the business.

"All that came to a halt when they decided to centralise their processing in the south east. Our meat orders just dwindled and dwindled until they were virtually non-existent."

Faced with the prospect of having to close their doors, Mrs Mickelbourgh and her son Les, hit the phones.

The pair spent months phoning wholesalers around Australia, searching for new markets for their kangaroo meat.

"We just felt that there had to be a bigger market for kangaroo meat, particularly for human consumption," Les said.

"We spent many months on the phone and eventually struck a bloke who was interested.

"It was about this time that new regulations came in that meant every facility had to be accredited to process meat for human consumption even if they were only producing pet food.

"We decided then to invest in renovating this new site to give us a real crack at developing the business."

The Mickelbourgh family only spent a few months operating at the new facility before the floods of 2009 struck.

Although never inundated, Warroo Game Meats was completely surrounded by floodwaters that effectively shut it down for three months - a heavy blow for the Mickelbourghs who had borrowed heavily to develop the new site. But the impact was compounded when floods again shut the plant in the summers of 2010 and 2011.

"Those three years of flooding have had a devastating impact on our business," Les said.

"We had a large debt from borrowing to develop the new facility and no income for three months for each of those years.

"We tried hard to help the staff out but it was very difficult.

"We lobbied every local politician we knew of to try and get some help but we never qualified for any assistance. "We are the second largest employer in the town behind the council but they never once picked up the phone to see how we were getting on.

"We feel the council should care more about the businesses left in these small towns and should do more to help support them."

The closure of the Russian export market for kangaroo meat in 2009 was another hurdle for the factory. It led to a "flooding" of the domestic market by the larger processors.

"That oversupply has definitely made our human consumption market a lot less stable," he said.

"We are currently supplying fillets on a weekly basis to a wholesaler who distributes them onto the domestic market in Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney.

"We also produce about 12 tonnes of manufacturing meat a week, which largely ends up in small pet food shops throughout Queensland. I wouldn't say the human consumption market is stable. We are pretty much dictated to by the larger suppliers - developing a solid export market would make all the difference."

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