Abattoirs plead for capacity lift

Abattoirs, industry plead for lift in capacity restrictions

Agribusiness
SPRING FLUSH: Processors, producers and industry have put their case for an easing of abattoir capacity limits before the spring flush arrives.

SPRING FLUSH: Processors, producers and industry have put their case for an easing of abattoir capacity limits before the spring flush arrives.

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Stakeholders are desperate for an easing of abattoir capacity restrictions.

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Victoria's meat processing sector and livestock producers are on tenterhooks as rules limiting the operating capacity at works look set to ease.

While the excellent season has so far held back new season lamb numbers in yards, processors are looking for changes to capacity restrictions before the spring flush arrives.

On Wednesday the state government announced that there were 15 new cases overnight.

It was also announced that the 14-day rolling average of new cases in metropolitan areas had dropped to 29.4 and to 1.1 in regional Victoria.

Premier Daniel Andrews said on Wednesday that given the numbers reached, the government was looking at moving a little earlier on some restrictions.

A state government spokesperson said the meat and seafood processing businesses were a critical part of the agriculture supply chain

"We are working closely with industry as we work through what arrangements will apply in this sector while operations are highly restricted," a state government spokesperson said.

"We know the challenges these restrictions may present, particularly at this time of year, and the importance of letting industry know these details as soon as possible.

"We acknowledge and thank the industry for the significant work already completed to reduce the risk of transmission in their facilities."

Markets reporter Leann Dax said Victorian processors had ramped up their buying from saleyards in southern NSW in the past week.

"They are just going for it," she said.

"They are saying they are short of numbers in Victoria."

She said some buyers that had been absent for the past few months were back in the cattle market.

VFF Livestock Group president Leonard Vallance said industry had put a good case to government on having a risk-based assessment of abattoirs in regional areas.

He said he was looking for a positive outcome.

Australian Lamb Company, Colac, Livestock manager Ben Verrall said the restrictions in processing capacity were starting to get very difficult.

The restrictions needed to be lifted, "now - or yesterday", he said.

"We are not in a position to employ and train workers, or gear up for when we eventually do get back to some sort of additional volume.

"It's a very tricky situation that needs to be addressed by the powers that be very quickly - we are effectively losing workforce and we can't employ new ones."

ALC employs more than 700 people.

He said the spring flush had not yet hit the works, but ALC wanted to be ready, for when it did.

Mr Verrall said ALC was rotating staff to keep people employed for a set number of hours.

"We can't bring those staff back to work, at the moment, because we are over our limit."

He said it would take time to rebuild the workforce, particularly as no overseas workers were coming into the country.

"It's not just clicking our fingers and finding 90 people," he said.

"You have to condition them to this environment, you need to train them, there is a lot that goes into it, which I think is being overlooked by the powers that be."

Midfields Meats general manager Dean McKenna, said it would take a long time for businesses to get over the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

"The restrictions the government have put in place are hurting a lot of businesses but Midfield is not complaining," he said.

"I feel for so many other businesses that are doing it tough. Australia is really struggling to attract workers across the board.

"There's a real stigma against Australia now and in particular Victoria. For instance seasonal workers don't want to come to Victoria as they fear there may be more outbreaks and then they are locked down again."

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