Kimberley cattle king Jack Burton says he is on target to begin processing at his abattoir between Broome and Derby in time for next year's muster despite cash flow problems created by a lean year for live exports.
Work started on the footings for the abattoir on Yeeda station last week as the Australian Agricultural Company board ticked off on plans to develop another new abattoir near Darwin.
Mr Burton is building a $20 million facility with the capacity to process 55,000 cattle a year while AACo will spend $90 million on a 200,000 head-a-year facility.
The pastoral industry has been crying out for processing facilities in the far north to ease the reliance on live exports and to provide a market for cattle that do not meet live export specifications.
"It is good for industry and about the whole realignment of the industry toward a mix of live exports and abattoirs," Mr Burton said. "These abattoirs aren't to replace live export, they are to complement it and are for animals that don't suit live export."
Mr Burton is developing the abattoir with Singaporean interests who have a 25 per cent share. He hopes to have the building up by the end of next month and fitted out in time for next cattle season but admitted there were short-term challenges.
"It is not easy. A lot of the cash flow to do it has come from live export," he said. "And even though there is a little bit of activity now, it has been a horrendously bad year for prices and volumes. We need a lot of cattle to go out between now and end of year on live export, which will determine how fast we finish it."
Mr Burton's Yeeda Pastoral Company includes seven stations covering about 1.3 million ha and stocking about 60,000 cattle.
He said the industry was close to a turning point as global demand for beef, particularly in China and South-East Asia, skyrocketed.
"Times are tough. Prices are very low - we are getting less now than we were 15 years ago - sales of cattle have been erratic and some people are virtually living hand-to-mouth," he said.
"But the issues we are having are very short term and we're looking forward to an exciting and very profitable decade. It is a matter of dealing with the short-term issues and then hanging on to your hat."
Mr Burton said although abattoirs in the Eastern States had been operating above capacity because of the drought in Queensland, no beef had been stockpiled.
"It's all been sold and eaten. The world is eating and going to eat more beef, there is no doubt about that," he said.
The Yeeda abattoir will employ about 35 people and operate throughout the year, including the wet season when it is very difficult to transport cattle by truck.
Mr Burton said cattle would be walked in from the station's surrounding land during the wet season and fed on the pasture around the abattoir.
Beef from the abattoir will be exported from Broome Port and air freighted to some overseas markets. Yeeda will diversify production from manufacturing grade, to frozen quarters and higher-value cuts to sell locally under its free-range brand.
Mr Burton backed calls by Agriculture Minister Ken Baston for a major upgrade of Broome Port, saying it needed the capacity to handle containers and refrigerated products.