Audio – Hopes Northern abattoir can boost food exports from the Top End

7 November 2014
Sara Everingham
ABC News
It’s four years since Australia’s largest agricultural company began chewing on the idea of setting up an abattoir in the Top End and now the project is up and running in what’s being hailed as a step forward for food production in the north. It’s good news for northern beef producers who up until now have had to send cattle thousands of kilometres to southern abattoirs only for the beef to be sometimes sent back north into Asia. Other food producers in the top end are planning to piggyback on the new project to overcome some of the impediments to exporting fresh produce from Darwin.
Listen to the full audio here.
CHRIS UHLMANN: Australia is also close to signing a new deal to export a billion dollars worth of live-cattle to China every year. Officials have reached agreement on a massive expansion as the two countries inch closer to that Free Trade Agreement.
It’s good news for beef producers who are also on the verge of expanding boxed meat exports. After many years finally they will have an abattoir in the Northern Territory.
Other food producers in the Top End are also planning to piggyback on the project to overcome one of the hurdles to exporting fresh produce through Darwin’s port.
Sara Everingham reports.
SARA EVERINGHAM: About 50 kilometres south of Darwin, Australia’s largest agricultural company AACo is stepping up production at its new abattoir just given the green light by environmental agencies.
The company’s managing director Jason Strong says it won’t be long before the abattoir is producing enough beef to export through Darwin’s port.
JASON STRONG: Certainly exports is the target and the majority of the product will all be exported.
SARA EVERINGHAM: AACo will be able to put up to 200,000 head of cattle through the abattoir each year, giving northern beef producers a new market for cattle not suited to the live export trade.
Mr Strong says up until now beef producers had to send those cattle to abattoirs thousands of kilometres away – a long and expensive journey that can significantly reduce the selling price of cattle.
JASON STRONG: You’d have a situation where cattle out of the northern part of the territory would be trucked to south or eastern Australia and they’d be processed and they’d go into a container which would be shipped out of Adelaide or Melbourne or Brisbane and they’d quite possibly end up back in an Asian market.
SARA EVERINGHAM: AACo’s plans to export boxed beef through Darwin port could help other food producers in the Top End.
Grant Fenton the CEO of the Northern Territory Farmers Association says the boxed beef will increase volumes going through the port and bring down the shipping costs of products such as mangoes and melons.
He says growers can piggyback their products on the beef to make it a viable option to ship to Asia directly from Darwin’s port.
GRANT FENTON: As I understand it’s cheaper to send produce to South Australia and put it on containers there and it’s still cheaper to do it that way than it is to try and send it out of Darwin, which is a bit of a shame.
We also see that in air freight. We see a lot of produce head down to the markets in Brisbane and Sydney and loaded onto planes that fly across the top of us again. So hopefully with AACo’s development we will see that change.
SARA EVERINGHAM: How far away do you think you are from that becoming a reality?
GRANT FENTON: It won’t take long for a producer or a group of producers to identify that opportunity and then hopefully they’ll be able to connect with a market that allows them to put stuff on ships in Darwin and send it north.
It will be great to think that there’s Northern Territory produce leaving Darwin harbour and heading north.
SARA EVERINGHAM: In recent decades many meat processers in northern Australia have shut down. But David Warriner from the NT Cattlemen’s Association thinks AACo can buck that trend, citing the strong demand for processed beef, particularly in the United States.
DAVID WARRINER: I think it’s a great story, the AA story. You’re talking about developing north Australia, well there’s one project that’s happening, where’s some more? Mr Government, where’s some more?
SARA EVERINGHAM: The inaugural food futures conference in Darwin this week looked at how to turn the talk about northern development into a reality and how to learn from the failures and successes in the past.
Mr Warriner says governments will have to convince investors and the public there’s an economic case to develop the north, particularly for projects where taxpayers are being asked to stump up the cash.
DAVID WARRINER: It would be a shame to have all this talk again, and we have been through this north Australia discussion a fair few times, but things don’t happen. And I hope that governments can create an environment where investors like AACo actually get into an environment that enables them to do it.
CHRIS UHLMANN: The president of the Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association David Warriner ending Sara Everingham’s report.
Courtesy of ABC News