The fragile nature of the domestic beef processing industry was exposed again this week with the shock announcement Churchill Abattoir at Ipswich will cease operations on September 28.
Churchill Abattoir provides a service kill to Woolworths and processes 600 cattle daily, but recently reduced it’s kill from five days to four days each week.
Director of Churchill Abattoir, Barry Moule said recent stock shortages and high cattle prices had a devastating impact on the business.
“Without the capacity to pass on increasing costs, our customers have struggled to maintain cattle numbers,” he said.
Mr Moule said once the abattoir closed on September 28, it would be mothballed until potential investors were found and the plant gained an export licence.
“To be viable we need to extract additional revenue that stems from being export accredited,” he said.
“Over the past few years we have engaged with several potential investors, notably some Chinese visitors, but unfortunately we have not been successful.
“We are seen as a ‘dinosaur’ in the industry being the largest domestic processor, without exporting options.
“What’s needed is an export licence to value add and market the difficult to sell cuts of meat such as the offal.”
Mr Moule said the decision to severe ties with Woolworths was a mutual arrangement.
A spokesperson from Woolworths confirmed the decision to cease operations at Churchill Abattoir.
“Woolworths remains committed to farmers and feedlots and buying teams will continue to work together to source livestock from Queensland,” he said.
“Further to this move, Woolworth’s case ready meat production will now cease operations in July 2018.
“Both decisions follow Woolworths’ announcement in October 2016, to partner with Hilton Foods Australia to build, own and operate a new Queensland case ready meat plant.”
Both parties are tight lipped as to where Woolworths will process cattle after September 28 and until a new facility is built. Industry speculation is rife however, with five processors in south-east Queensland to chose from.
Mr Moule said while they will continue to seek investors it was prudent to shut down while they are able to make all payments and entitlements to employees and supplies.
“Approximately 500 workers at the site will be impacted and many live locally and worked here for 20 years with 95 percent of our workforce Australian workers.”