VETERAN meat processor Joe Catalfamo’s Australian Meat Group has confirmed its purchase of the mothballed Cootamundra beef and sheep meat abattoir on the New South Wales south-west slopes.
AMG managing director Gilbert Cabral confirmed to Beef Central this morning that the deal had been completed, and his company would take over the facility in coming weeks. No price was disclosed.
Joe Catalfamo was the owner of the Tasman Group, which sold its six Victorian and Tasmanian processing and lot-feeding interests to JBS in 2008.
Rumours have circulated about a possible sale interest from AMG in the Cootamundra plant for at least 15 months.
The plant has been shut since early 2017, after owners Manildra Group ran into significant livestock supply and price headwinds at the time.
Manildra fought off Chinese investor competition to purchase the Cootamundra abattoir from original owners GM Scott in 2014, not long before the 2015 surge in lamb and cattle prices occurred. The investment was made to diversify Manildra’s agribusiness interests, which include flour and sugar milling, stock feeds, ethanol production and other commodities.
Through its stock feeds and by-products connections, Manildra established an integrated grainfed cattle supply chain business a decade ago, and started its investment in the meat sector in 2013 through a joint venture in a retail-ready boning room operated as Argyle Prestige Meats.
Mr Cabral said Cootamundra’s role under AMG’s ownership was still to be determined.
“One of its attractions is that it is a multi-species plant,” he said. “We have not yet worked out arrangements for a lamb kill, and will probably do beef only at Cootamundra for the time-being,” he said.
It might take ‘quite some time’ for livestock processing operations to commence, Mr Cabral said. Some refurbishments were likely to take place at the facility before any decisions were made about sourcing slaughter livestock.
He said the plant remained in reasonably good shape, despite being mothballed for the past three years.
AMG currently processes beef only at its Dandenong facility southeast of Melbourne, formerly owned by Castricums, with a capacity of 1500 cattle a day. The company previously processed lambs, sheep and goats at a second facility at Deniliquin, which it closed about three years ago – at much the same time as the Cootamundra plant shut its doors.
Cootamundra is a Tier-Two export licensed plant, the same as Dandenong, giving access to primary markets including the US, Japan and Korea – but it does not presently have approval to supply the China market.
The sale ends a difficult five year stint in the meat processing industry for Manildra’s founder, Dick Honan, with narrow margins caused by limited livestock supply and high stock prices having plagued the business.
At the time of Cootamundra’s closure in early 2017 he said problems were due to a “critical lack of livestock supply and export markets unwilling or unable to pay more for Australian meat.” The plant also lost a larger supermarket retail-ready supply contract the year before.
In late 2018, local livestock industry sources in the Cootamundra area said there had been rumours circulating for several weeks that a Chinese consortium might be lining up to purchase the plant.
Cootamundra at one point processed up to 4200 sheep/lambs and 200 cattle a day, delivering output of up to 800,000 lamb and 25,000 beef carcases each year.
Original owners GM Scott invested $7 million in a major plant upgrade in 2012 through a new processing floor, with a view to upgrading from tier-one to tier-two export status, opening up premium export markets. Cootamundra also employed a retail-ready line producing case-ready MAP and Darfresh packed beef and lamb.
Beef Central asked AMG’s Gilbert Cabral about recent rumours that a South American processor, most likely Minerva, might be sizing up an investment in the Australian Meat Group’s processing assets. Some had linked the Cootamundra purchase with a larger Minerva investment deal.
“There’s nothing in that at all,” Mr Cabral said.