Strong demand likely for new Warnertown abattoir

Reg Smyth could be called a "hired gun" of the meat production business.

His business, Pirie Meats, will charge producers for the right to have their livestock slaughtered at a new $60 million Warnertown abattoir.

"We are for hire. We are there to provide the meat in the form and specification that the client requires including packaging," he said.

Mr Smyth, a former Royal Australian Navy seaman, spoke from Canberra where he is overseeing the first steps toward the multi-species venture near the Gladstone turn-off from Augusta Highway.

The first work will begin at the site, on the south-eastern corner, within four months when fences are expected to be put up.

Mr Smyth and his wife will move to Port Pirie and his business partner will probably live in the Clare area.

Not only are he and his business partner looking at life-changing decisions - the recruiting for 215 workers has begun.

"Our target is 100 percent local employment. We don't want to go down the 'visa' path," he said, referring to other companies that import labour.

Inquiries about employment and questions about the project should be directed to 1300 742 414 or admin@yorkeandmidnorth.com.au

Mr Smyth said more than a million sheep and more than 120,000 cattle were being slaughtered interstate because the abattoir at Murray Bridge was destroyed by fire early last year.

This represents an area where the new local venture can capitalise.

"Even before the fire, we found our business plan stacked up," he said.

"There was no capacity in South Australia for export service processing. We can grow to meet demand."

The strategy for the site is different from the traditional approach taken by abattoirs.

Often, a slaughterhouse will source livestock for domestic or export sales from specific clients such as a supermarket.

Livestock is also sourced from saleyards or the abattoir puts out a "grid" saying what the abattoir is prepared to pay for the animals. Farmers then contact an agent working for the abattoir to pay the price that has been offered.

But Mr Smyth's team will purely provide a processing service for clients, although it could source livestock on their behalf if needed.

"The livestock will come directly from the farmers or their feedlot with a fee charged for processing," he said.

"It will be processed frozen or fresh for domestic or export use. It could be halal meat.

"Some farmers may have a contract with a restaurant and we would process the meat to the level that the restaurant requires.

"It might be whole carcass or primals or individual cuts."

He said clients could include supermarkets, wholesalers, exporters, producers for export, farmers and small retailers.

"We have done the modelling and our demand way exceeds our forecast processing capacity in the first two years," he said.

Farmers and beef stud operators Brian and Heath Tiller will create a feedlot for up to 10,000 cattle at their property at Warnertown to supply the abattoir. An underpass may be built beneath Augusta Highway to link the two sites.

Mr Smyth and his team's dream is being achieved without financial support from any government, although they did seek some grants without success. But he said: "There are a lot of areas where they can hep us. We are talking about road changes and the underpass. A traffic impact study has been done and thousands of dollars are needed for road alterations."

The company has a couple of foreign interests including Chinese backers, but they are only small holdings and he said the Chinese interest was more of a "strategic relationship" with a view to marketing the meat.

"There are strong links to key markets. We see them as a key market," he said. Other markets include North America, Europe and Asia.

Quality meat such as Wagyu and Angas could be processed with the latter having a lot of potential in North American and European markets.

"We are keen to get down to Port Pirie to make it a success," he said.

The meatworks is expected to open in mid-2020 with an initial shift of 215 workers slaughtering mutton, goat, lamb and beef.

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