THE stories behind WAMMCO International's rise from the ashes to a global lamb leader, is now fully documented in a tell all book called 'Off the Hook'.
WAMMCO's transition from controversial statutory control of WA's prime lamb industry in 1999 to a thriving co-operative, free enterprise structure that is a global lamb leader, occupies a salient chapter in the State's farming industry.
The book 'Off the Hook' which tells a new history of the lamb industry in WA was researched by local rural journalist Geoff Gare was launched at the LambEx 2018's GrandsLamb dinner at the Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre on Monday night by WAMMCO chief executive officer Col MacRury, former chairman Dawson Bradford and Mr Gare.
Current chairman Craig Heggaton, who introduced the trio for the launch, said he took over the reins of the co-operative only three years ago and today directors and producer members were reaping the rewards of an historic series of events of the co-operative.
"It all started when selected lamb producer representatives had been called in by then Agriculture Minister Monty House and directed to build a new producer co-operative from the ashes of WA's statutory lamb marketing authority, and the shell of WA's then only export meat processor Metro Meat," Mr Heggaton said.
"The Court Liberal/National government had accepted the remnants of Metro Meat from its Chinese owners CITIC, virtually as a gift, while shutting down the statutory lamb marketing authority.
"At the same time the government had canvassed to bring major New South Wales sheep processor Roger Fletcher to set up a new processing plant at Narrikup, near Albany.
"It was into this highly uncertain environment that our early directors found themselves struggling against unimaginable odds, to keep the co-operative notion afloat."
Mr Heggaton said much of the credit for the early rescue and for the successful building of the new co-operative, was due to Mr Bradford, the long-serving chairman and former Metro manager, Des Griffiths, as well as early directors like Max Cameron, Mike Norton, Mick Quinlivan, Graeme Nixon, Mark Bahen, Brad Thomason and Kim Hutchinson.
"This was the formative period that not only salvaged and restored processing and marketing capacity, but changed the production culture from quantity to quality," Mr Heggaton said.
Mr Bradford said the creation of the WA lamb producer co-operative had been a "lively ride" for all concerned.
"We had many close calls during the early days and were reliant not only on the loyalty of our producer members and the skills of our directors, but on the early support of our management, marketing, legal and accounting teams," Mr Bradford said.
Having started in July-August of 1999, 12 months later the new co-op had lost about $7 million.
By mid October 2000 it was heading towards insolvency.
"The creation of WAMMCO coincided with a period in the late 1990s when Western Australians were eating less WA lamb per head from poor-quality, lightweight lambs that were barely returning $20 per head," he said.
"Today, through genetics, management, processing efficiency and marketing, we enjoy premium global demand for our lamb with average returns pushing close to the mid-$100s.
"The lamb weights now being achieved everyday in WA would never have been believed possible 20 years ago.
"A shift from seasonal to year-round processing not only encouraged the regular installation of technology at WAMMCO's Katanning processing plant, but also the luxury of a permanent workforce."
Seizing an opportunity to buy a second processing plant at Goulburn, NSW, was another milestone for the WA co-operative, particularly by balancing variations in livestock supply between the east and west.
"Our decision to form a co-operative marketing agency with other Australian and New Zealand exporters to market Australian and New Zealand prime lamb in the USA and Canada, was pivotal to our success," Mr Bradford said.
"This market underwrites the heavy end of our global sales market and has assisted WAMMCO's charter to reward its producer members with a rebate, on top of maximum prices."
Off the Hook will be distributed to member shareholders and WAMMCO clients, with copies for sale on request.