PRIME Minister Tony Abbott will officially open the Australian Agricultural Company’s new northern beef processing facility south of Darwin tomorrow.
Mr Abbott is visiting Darwin as part of the fiftieth anniversary of the bombing of Darwin during World War II.
AA Co started killing cattle in small quantities at the plant in October last year, and is understood to be currently processing about 200 head a day through the much-anticipated facility, heralding a new era in cattle market dynamics in northern Australia.
Few agricultural projects in Australia’s history, with the possible exception of the Cubbie Station irrigation project near Dirranbandi, have attracted as much media scrutiny as AA Co’s Darwin meat facility, during its development phase.
The novelty value in the establishment of the first significant abattoir in northern Australia in 50 years, and the collective nay-sayers who insist it won’t work, has fed a media frenzy of epic proportions over the past 12 months.
The first customer for beef produced from the plant was an un-named domestic manufacturing beef customer on the eastern seaboard, rather than an export client, as some might have expected. It is not clear yet whether the product is being transported by road, or via coastal shipping route.
Late last year there were a series of unexpected delays in moving to a commercial kill at the Livingstone site south of Darwin, due to the EPA regulatory process surrounding the plant’s Operational Management Plan.
AA Co also told stakeholders late last year that it planned to be operating a full, single killing shift of 520 head per day at the plant by March this year.
“We are proud that the plant, now known as Livingstone Beef, has been completed on time and on budget,” managing director Jason Strong said at the time of first kills late last year.
In October, Mr Strong rejected media statements that the company would have a ‘battle on its hands’ securing slaughter stock for upcoming kills, given competition from live export.
Live export steers were worth 275c/kg ex Darwin this week, heifers 255c, while cows were making as much as 170c/kg.
The last ‘serious’ northern Australian beef kill was conducted at Katherine meatworks in 1999, after which Teys Bros/Consolidated Meat Group mothballed that plant in the face of growing competition for stock from the rapidly emerging live export trade.
Teys looked at re-opening the Katherine plant around 2005, but could not arouse support from northern producers in the form of a supply commitment, in the face of rapidly expanding live export trade out of Darwin at the time.
The new $91 million AA Co Livingstone facility incorporates a host of new technology not seen in conventional abattoirs, and will employ up to 320 staff when it reaches full 1000-a-day double shift capacity.
Mr Strong said Livingstone Beef was a key strategic step for AA Co in securing processing capacity to supply the finest quality Australian beef to the world.
“It will allow AA Co to capture more value along its entire supply chain,” he said.
“It also provides another channel to market for northern beef producers, who until now have had limited local sale options. We’re also proud of the capability of the company to comply with the 78-conditions of the environmental licence, the first of its kind in decades for a new meat processing facility.”
Beef Central will file a report after tomorrow’s opening.
See recent Beef Central articles on the Darwin plant here:
New era for northern Australia as AA Co flicks the switch on Darwin beef plant
AA Co sheds light on ‘preferred supplier’ status for Darwin plant
Darwin abattoir ‘on-time and on-budget’ for September, says AA Co
AA Co showcases ‘Darwin product’ to the market
AA Co starts recruiting process for Darwin plant’s September commissioning