SHEEP, lamb and goat processing in Queensland suffered a blow today with Thomas Foods International announcing the extended closure of its beleaguered small stock plant at Wallangarra due to livestock shortages and difficult global trading conditions.
TFI chief executive officer Darren Thomas today advised employees at the south-east Queensland plant it would close on July 8 and cease operations for the near to medium future.
The plant has the capacity to process up to 15,250 sheep, lambs and goats a week, but has been closed for the past nine weeks. It has had several temporary closures since TFI bought the abattoir in 2010.
“The closure follows on from an extended stand down due to livestock shortages and difficult global trading conditions,” Mr Thomas said.
“In making this decision, we wanted to give our loyal employees some certainty with regards to their employment so they could move on with their lives and either seek alternative positions within our group or pursue other work opportunities elsewhere.”
All employees would be paid their respective entitlements as defined in the company’s enterprise agreement, including any notice period and leave accruals.
“A number of Wallangarra employees have already transferred to our company’s Tamworth operation and we are hopeful that others who have been offered the opportunity will follow suit.
“Thomas Foods International is very hopeful of retaining skilled employees who wish to relocate to other operations within our group and we would offer what support and training we can in helping in this transition,” Mr Thomas said.
Plant closure to hit harder in the spring
The total number of sheep and lambs in Queensland in 2015 declined 6 percent year-on-year, to 2.2 million head. There was a 3pc increase in the number of lambs under one year, at 350,000 head, but Merino breeding ewes slipped 33pc, to 749,000 head. The number of other breeding ewes more than doubled year-on-year, to 524,000 last year.
McDougall and Sons auctioneer at Warwick David McIvor said the extended closure of the Wallangarra plant would not have much impact on sheep and lamb prices in the short term while there was a winter shortage of stock.
“In the short to medium term it is probably not going to have a big effect, but come the spring when there are a few more numbers about it will certainly going to impact.”
Mr McIvor said the plant’s closure would also impact the goat industry, limiting the number of major Queensland plants able to slaughter goats and sheep or lambs for export.
Leading Sheep southern region co-ordinator Noel O’Dempsey said he hoped TFI would continue as normal and process Queensland sheep and lambs at its Tamworth plant. He had valued the sheep disease feedback information he was able to obtain from the Wallangarra plant.
“Hopefully they can overcome this current stock shortage and return to processing Queensland sheep in Queensland.
Full-time staff offered position at Tamworth
TFI operations director Gary Burridge said the plant most recently employed about 80 full-time and 80 casual staff. He said about 70 full-time staff have been offered positions at TFI’s Tamworth plant.
Mr Burridge said the plant’s future would depend on livestock numbers, seasonal and global trading conditions.
“At the end of the day it is really difficult to say.”
Otherwise Mr Burridge said it would be “business as usual” with TFI’s livestock buying in Queensland.
“It will be business as usual, but with the reduced flock something has got to give.”