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Old 14-11-2011, 05:31 AM
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Default Abattoir between Charters Towers and Cloncurry talks

A feasibility study into a proposed meat processing plant between Charters Towers and Cloncurry was scheduled to begin this week.

Abattoir lobby group NorthBeef spokesman Rob Atkinson from Katandra, between Hughenden and Winton, updated the crowd at last week's AgInvest Forum in Townsville.

NorthBeef has gathered 150 producers and State Govern ment support to back the project.

At high capacity, the $35 million facility would process 500 head a day and employ 200 people.

Mr Atkinson said the viability stage would assess things such as location, availability of stock and labour, and market accessibility.

Securing a strong workforce was one of the biggest challenges he anticipated, with the swelling mining industry eating up labour sources.

Other obstacles included location, water, and technology.

Mr Atkinson said beef branding was another issue.

He said the abattoir's supplier base had a strong focus on natural grassfed and organic branded beef, which wasn't supported in the north.

"Grassfed beef is such an undersold, wonderful product," he said.

"And the closest facility for organic branded beef is in Casino."

NorthBeef hopes to table something soon to get the ball rolling.

"In three months, we should have a document to hand to interested investors," Mr Atkinson said.

The proposal is an answer to the lack of slaughter export facilities north of a line drawn from Perth to Townsville.

The NorthBeef plant aims to open up local producer and business opportunities against big competitors JBS Swift, Teys Bros and Nippon.

Mr Atkinson said all processed Queensland beef was exported from Brisbane, negating the Port of Townsville's capacity, which he said could ship out volumes of refrigerated containers.

Queensland Minister for Agriculture, Food and Regional Economies, Tim Mulherin, supported the competition meat processing facilities would offer.

He said over dependence on a single export market and no meat processing competition were big issues, claiming strategically located abattoirs could access more than three million North Queensland cattle.

The project came at a tumultuous yet exciting time for the industry, observers said.

Mr Atkinson likened the current climate to the beef slump of the 1970s, saying beef returns at the farmgate had plummeted in the last seven years alone.

But some positive changes over the decades had better placed the industry for now.

"A lot of things have changed since the 1970s there are more cattle, and what was predominantly sheep country is now predominantly cattle country," Mr Atkinson said.

He pointed out other big pluses in vastly improved sup plements, nutrition, pastures, genetics and fertility.

A shift in the export landscape was also promising to open more doors.

Mr Atkinson said projections showed increased Brazil production would lessen demand from places like Latin America, but big player Asia will create more trade.

NorthBeef isn't the only organisation trying to fill the meat processing gap.

Pastoral giant AAco announ ced in September it would lodge a development application for a $50 million abattoir ahead of construction set for early next year. It is expected to source stock from a range of cattle producers.

The project has fought for some private investment and government funding, but Mr Atkinson isn't perturbed by its troubles.

"It's a completely different catchment area here for the cattle," he said.

Independent MP Nick Xenophon has also expressed his support for abattoir infrastructure.

The AgInvest Forum Mr Atkinson spoke at attracted about 60 attendees including domestic and international investors.

It was hosted by the Department of Environment, Economics Development and Innovation (DEEDI) and profiled agribusiness opportunities in North Queensland.
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