The history of the $60m Bourke small animal abattoir has taken another twist - this time for the better - after Thomas Foods announced it had bought the facility for an undisclosed sum.
In promising a bright future for the goat meat processing plant, Thomas says it wants to expand the operation and take advantage of the surge in goat meat prices and demand, and reopen the plant mid-next year.
The tortured history of the facility has seen it rise from the production ashes several times, with its previous owner Capra Developments suspending production several times, once forced on it by the drought, and other times by the lack of available staff.
The Federal Government was a major seed supporter of the project injecting $10 million towards the project in 2016 via an agreement with the Bourke Shire Council.
One of the biggest hurdles for the abattoir has been finding staff, but Thomas says it is confident of finding 120 employees.
The sale was announced late on Wednesday.
Capra Developments was helped by a $10m grant towards the project under the Federal Government National Stronger Regions Fund to help build the council infrastructure to get the abattoir under way. Local Parkes Federal MP Mark Coulton has been a strong supporter of the abattoir from its inception.
Mr Coulton told Australian Community Media that the seeding money had been with Bourke Shire Council, not Capra, and that money had gone into the necessary infrastructure including new roads to help get the plant under way about 12km north of Bourke.
Mr Coulton said he was very happy that Thomas Foods was the new owner and it had the logistical capacity to realise the project's dream. He understood the new upgrade would include a rendering plant.
He said the fact the abattoir had been in and out of production had been "very, very disappointing", and that it had been a major project of his to see the abattoir through to success.
He felt Thomas would realise its ambitions to open mid next year, and had the ability to source locally and also bring in skilled meatworkers. "The addition of 120 extra pay cheques to the Bourke economy will be enormous," he said. He said it was upsetting many workers from Aboriginal communities had been laid off during the plant's closures.
"I'm extremely pleased that Thomas Foods has got it and they have the right profile in the food processing industry to make it work." He said the company had the ability to bring in a highly skilled workforce.
Thomas Foods International said it had acquired the Bourke meat processing facility from Darling River Goat Exports.
"The Darling River Goat Exports plant opened in January 2019 but was closed by its original owners in May that year citing challenges including seasonal conditions at the time."
Thomas Foods International Livestock Manager Paul Leonard said the facility would be further upgraded before it is re-opened next year.
"We see very strong potential in this facility to service local farmers and create employment opportunities in the region," Mr Leonard said.
"Thomas Foods International has a reputation of making significant continuous investment in our operations across Australia and we will bring the same approach to Bourke.
"We are looking to make a range of capital improvements to the site over the coming months including the addition of freezing and rendering facilities.
"The plan is to begin processing both skin-on and skin-off goats from around mid-2022."
He said improved seasonal conditions and prices have seen the goat population grow significantly in recent times with many farmers in NSW and Queensland now running goats "behind wire" in fenced properties.
"We've also seen more female goats retained to assist with breeding rates," he said.
"At the same time the market conditions are favourable. Goat is one of the most widely eaten proteins in the world. We maintain a positive market outlook with strong demand from customers across the globe from Asia to North America and the Caribbean."
Mr Leonard said, as the facility's new owner, "Thomas Foods International brings with it a strong track record in procurement, processing and distribution as well as established global market networks".
"We're confident the Bourke plant will become a successful long-running operation for the region," he said.
The company put out a plea for staff and was looking to fill 120 positions..
"We'd love to hear from anyone in the local community who is keen to join our team," Mr Leonard said.
"Those wishing to register their interest to work at the Bourke plant can contact TFI on firstname.lastname@example.org."
Thomas Foods International is headquartered in South Australia with operations across Australia and in key international locations. In Australia this includes meat processing plants in Lobethal SA, Tamworth NSW and Stawell Victoria. TFI's new meat processing facility in Murray Bridge SA is currently under construction (replacing the original plant that was destroyed by fire in 2018).
The Group specialises in meat processing and distribution globally across the retail, wholesale and food service sectors.
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