Lack of beef closes meatworks early
North Queensland's only major export meatworks is closing almost two months earlier than recent years as a shortage of cattle brings on its seasonal shutdown.
The JBS Australia plant at Stuart in Townsville has been operating well below capacity, processing at 660 head a day rather than the peak of 900.
The plant, which will close on Friday, at present employs 350 people, about 100 fewer than at top production.
Plant manager David Arnold said the shortage of cattle had been caused by the loss of stock in the 2019 North Queensland floods, as well as strong demand from southern-based buyers looking to restock after drought.
While some have pointed to live cattle exports taking cattle that could have been processed at meatworks, Meat and Livestock Australia data shows live export volumes are well down because of constrained supply and high prices.
Mr Arnold said the availability of cattle was "just not there".
"I think it is an industry-wide problem … getting stock at the moment," Mr Arnold said.
"I think what you will find is a couple of years ago, back in 2019, you had that massive flood through here, half a million cattle got drowned out west. I think now we are seeing the effect of that problem."
Mr Arnold said there was also competition for stock for live cattle exports and people looking to restock after drought. "A lot of people are coming up to restock because they are getting rain down (south). They are restocking their property," he said.
The plant has set a reopening day of January 12 but this is subject to the wet season and the ability to transport stock.
Charters Towers livestock agent Jim Geaney said a lot of cattle had been turned off because of drought in eastern Australia.
He said a lot of finished cattle from North Queensland had gone south to other processing plants because of how widespread the drought had been over the past year.
Mr Arnold said staff would use their four weeks of annual leave and other leave entitlements they had accumulated to get them through the shutdown period.
Originally published as SHOWSTOPPER: Lack of beef closes meatworks early