The Northern Territory is just a few months away from having a large-scale meatworks operational again, and the northern cattle and buffalo industry cannot wait.
Since the Australian Agricultural Company’s (AACo) abattoir near Darwin closed in July 2018, NT pastoralists have had no option but to truck certain cattle thousands of kilometres to meatworks interstate.
Last year, the owners of the old Batchelor meatworks, Central Agri Group, announced they were stepping into AACo’s void, commencing a multi-million dollar refurbishment of the abattoir which had been shut since 2003.
Tradesman are currently working seven days a week on renovations to get the site up to Australian meatworks standards as soon as possible.
New market for cattle and buffalo
For cattle producers in the Northern Territory and Western Australia’s Kimberley region, the re-opening of the meatworks provides another market and potentially better margins for their cull animals.
But the buffalo industry possibly has the most to gain from the re-opening of the Batchelor abattoir.
Vice-president of the NT Buffalo Industry Council, Michael Swart, said the abattoir will allow buffalo producers to sell animals not suited to the live export trade, which currently have no real market.
“It’ll mean contractors and traditional owners can work their land, turn off buffalo during the dry season, and know they can make more money out of it and put more money back in.
“It’ll make the industry so much more viable because instead of turning off 10 or 20 per cent of the animals [mustered] you can turn off 50 per cent or more.”
Part-owner of the meatworks, Peter Polovinka, has already visited cattle stations across the Top End and Kimberley to drum-up supply.
“We have a lot of cattle and a lot of buffalo ready to come in,” Mr Polovinka said.
Mr Polovinka was reluctant to provide an exact date of when the meatworks would open, but was confident the renovations were on track for the site to have its first kill in the next few months.
NT producers ready to offload cattle
When running at full capacity, the Batchelor meatworks is expected to process around 200 head of cattle per day.
Speaking to ABC Rural after Central Agri Group announced the reopening last year, Markus Rathsmann from the nearby Mt Ringwood Station said he had cattle ready to sell to the abattoir as soon as it opened.
“It’s excellent news, we need an outlet for our cattle that are out of spec [for the live export trade],” he said.
“The requirements for putting cattle onto the boats are always tightening, so those cattle and buffalo [out of spec] need somewhere to go.”
Mr Rathsmann said last year’s closure of the AACo abattoir had definitely hurt northern beef producers.
“We’re all probably carrying more cattle than we should. We really need that outlet to get rid of out-of-spec animals and unproductive cows.
“I’ve got animals ready to go there right now.”
He said he was optimistic about the reopening of Batchelor meatworks, and that Mr Polovinka brought a wealth of experience to the facility.
“I wish them all the best and hope they stay,” Mr Rathsmann said.
The meat processed at the facility will all be exported to Asia, much of it to Indonesia, where it will compete with frozen Indian buffalo meat.
Mr Polovinka believed the Batchelor meatworks would be a success where the AACo meatworks failed because it would not compete with live exporters.
“We can’t compete against the [live export trade], they are just paying far too much,” he said.
“Being on the world market we are a price taker, not a price maker.
“So what you have to do is work out what you get for your product and work backwards from there so then you know what price to pay for your cattle.”