Latest bid for a regional abattoir

By Riverine Herald

PLANS to formally establish a Murray River Meat Cooperative, with the view to building a micro abattoir in Barham, will be pursued after getting widespread industry support last week.

More than 50 people, representing at least 35 producers across the region, attended a meeting on the proposal in Barham.

The meeting — hosted by Murray River Meat Cooperative, Murray River Council, GMG Accounting and Australian Micro Abattoirs — set a timeline to have the micro abattoir built within 12 months depending on funding.

The cooperative formation is the first major step in the project which was initiated by a small group of farmers who came together as a result of local abattoirs closing in the past two years.

They say the closure of the abattoirs at Deniliquin, Cobram and Wycheproof has had a negative impact on farmers with livestock, resulting in increased travel time to abattoirs that, for some producers, are up to 300km away.

Across the river, the Echuca abattoir also closed in early March.

Speaking at the meeting last week, Lauren Mathers of Bundarra Berkshires highlighted the current predicament for small-scale paddock to plate producers.

‘‘We are fully aware that running a small batch of 10 pigs a week into a large abattoir is going to present its own issues.

‘‘When there’s 1000 pigs being processed a week, isolating 10 pigs a week to certain specs is no doubt an onerous contract.

‘‘We want to provide our region’s farmers with a solution to the problem by providing a reliable service for farmers with small numbers of animals needing to be processed and delivered if need be.’’

Ms Mathers said her own processing costs have increased by 60 per cent this year, which includes extra travelling to abattoirs and contracting delivery back to her farm’s butchering facility.

‘‘I can only imagine what other farmers and butchers are facing, particularly now in a time of drought.

‘‘Farmers need to be able to have control over their bottom line to keep their livestock and businesses afloat.’’

Australian Micro Abattoirs founder Michele Lally conducted a feasibility study into building a micro abattoir based on only the initial eight farmers involved, and she said the numbers already stacked up.

‘‘Based on initial findings, this region can support a profitable and manageable processing facility that caters for multi-species,’’ she said.

‘‘I am confident now with the support from the people who attended the meeting that the cooperative model and the small scale approach is going to be a successful project going forward.’’

Ms Lally and her company were recently awarded the Innovation Award by MLA and have patented designs for compliant multi-species processing units housed in shipping containers. The units are built and delivered to the site as a ready-to-use facility with minimal environmental impact and footprint.

Murray River Council’s economic development manager John Harvie chaired the meeting and said the project is needed to ensure the region continues to grow.

‘‘The project will create jobs and add value to our region’s farming community, so council is keen to help support the cooperative in their efforts,’’ Mr Harvie said.

‘‘I would like to commend the proponents for their initiative to develop a much needed service for a number of food producers in the region.’’

GMG Accounting’s Rick Pickering is assisting the group in legally forming the Murray River Meat Cooperative, which will require a financial commitment from farmers.

Mrs Mathers said the initial contribution has been set at $500, and she said other producers not able to attend the meeting are still invited to come on board.

The next public meeting will be in November, on a date yet to be set, and will give members the opportunity to view and adopt the model rules, and vote on legally forming the cooperative.

■Anyone interested in the project should contact Mrs Mathers on 0458532333.