A federal investment in supply chain survival was celebrated with a barbeque on Friday with deputy prime minister and Nationals leader Michael McCormack making the announcement, amid a flurry of questions about state politics and koalas.
The $1.55 million in federal funds will help secure a $6m upgrade to Northern Co-operative Meat Company, the largest employer on the coast north of Newcastle with the aim of re-galvanising its future post pandemic.
"Covid has made us look at our supply chain and to de-risk our business. It has been our biggest impact this year," said NCMC CEO Simon Stahl.
"All the balls are up in the air. This investment in a retail ready facility is one of the many mechanisms we have explored and one of many that we have to look at going forward."
The custom build will be repeated at NCMC's pork processing facility at Booyong.
It has been a tough year for everyone in the meat processing sector. At Casino, service-kill throughput is down 35 per cent due to headwinds from more than one direction.
The herd rebuild post drought, high saleyard prices and this ultimate hit to processors' bottom line is a repeating traumatic experience, last felt only four years ago. As such its coming was anticipated.
The withdrawal of export registration with China was another repeat experience, but this time arrived without warning and coincided with the closure of Middle eastern and European ports because of Covid. China, at that time had re-opened for business.
The pandemic's pain has been altogether different, with retail beef sales taking a massive body-blow and indoor isolation fashion failing to include much leather, hitting the already depressed hide market just when it was beginning to show signs of a rebirth.
The investment in a retail packaging chain will offer NCMC's multitude of branded customers who currently receive beef in a box, the ability to direct market their product one steak at a time into consumer's home both here and abroad. It will also add value jobs, 60 people across two shifts, something post Covid regional Australia requires.
"This investment will allow us to free up skilled workers to train new employees," said Mr Stahl.
New relationships with other markets for these products are being deepened at the same time.
"We also want deep dealings with China," he said. "We would like to do business with them but if we have to move on we will.
Deputy Premier Michael McCormack addressed the funding announcement on Friday saying the desire to trade with China was far from extinguished.
"We have 149 billion reasons to keep trade open with China. They are our largest trading nation. But the trade minister is working very hard to open new markets," he said, noting the UK post Brexit, along with the EU were promising outlets while forging new ties through the Trans-Pacific Partnership - in spite of the US pull-out - would give smaller nations, like Australia, a greater voice.
"The best beef is in Australia and we need to export it to the world," he said. "This project at NCMC is a great opportunity because everytime we forge another trading link we give another job to farmers."
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