Onshore processing needs Federal funds

Kimberley pastoralist Jack Burton at his first city butchers. Picture: Megan Powell/The West Australian

One of Australia's biggest cattlemen has hit out at the Federal Government and politicians for failing to support investment in onshore processing to reduce the industry's dependence on live exports.

Jack Burton's blast comes as the industry braces for the fallout from Australia's spying row with Indonesia, the dominant market for live cattle exports.

Mr Burton said he had been trying unsuccessfully for several weeks to speak to Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce - who postponed a trip to Indonesia to discuss live exports after anti-Australia protests last week - about Government support for an abattoir in the Kimberley.

His Yeeda Pastoral Company, which has about 60,000 cattle on seven stations covering about 1.2 million hectares, is building a $20 million abattoir with capacity to process about 50,000 cattle a year between Broome and Derby.

Mr Burton wants to expand the project with Government backing in preference to selling off more equity to overseas investors.

"We are not building a massive abattoir, it is basically for our own use with some other cattle, but now that we have taken it this far it would only take about 25 per cent ($5 million) of the current spend to take the capacity out to 125,000 head and make it a regional facility," he said.

"We'd like the Government to put its hand in its pocket to help with that in some way because cash flow is tight and we just don't have that sort of cash.

"With the industry concerned about wearing some of the fallout from the Indonesian situation, this is a chance for the Government to get behind us but they are still being either non-committal or obstructive."

A Singaporean-based equity fund already has a 25 per cent stake in the abattoir, which is on target to begin operation in May, but Mr Burton said he would prefer not to have to sell off more equity at a discount.

"Foreign companies are running around Australia every day looking at agriculture and food assets, and we are not exempt from that," he said.

"They think of food differently because they are net importers of food whereas we have always been net exporters."

Mr Burton was in the US last week for talks on supplying restaurant and fast food chains with Kimberley beef. He predicts huge demand as the chains grow into South-East Asia and China.

Yeeda also expanded its retail arm from the Kimberley into Perth at the weekend, opening a shop next to Coles in Innaloo Shopping Centre.

It stocks beef and lamb produced exclusively on Yeeda properties, which include farms near Geraldton that stock about 30,000 sheep.