If farmers are the engine-room of Australian agriculture, the processors are the transmission and gearbox.
The processors of our food are extremely influential in Australian agriculture, often setting the prices farmers receive, and setting the benchmark for retail prices for consumers.
According to National Farmers' Federation vice president David Jochinke, processors play a vital role in agriculture.
"The processors are hugely important to the agriculture sector to lift the value of our product so we can both create jobs in that manufacturing sector as well as access high-yielding, more valuable markets," Mr Jochinke said.
Mr Jochinke said farmers always wanted to see more processors in a sector, rather than less.
"For us as farmers we always want to have price discovery, we want to know what is a fair price for our product, with everyone having a clip of the ticket, but no one gaining a great advantage over anyone else.
"Where there is thin competition, it is where farmers have a little more frustration in getting more transparency into that price discovery of what the processor margin is. In a more competitive market that seems to sort itself out a little more."
However, in some sectors, it is the exporters that carry influence. Non-perishable commodities, such as wool and cotton and even grain, have increasingly moved overseas, making the exporters the power players in those sectors.
This is the second in our special three-part series listing the biggest and best in agriculture. See our special list of the nation's biggest farmers, and next week we will publish ag's record price breakers.
Here are the biggest processors in Australian agriculture.
Biggest beef processor
Australia's biggest beef processor is JBS Foods Australia, a division of the multinational JBS Foods, which is the biggest beef processor in the world.
JBS Foods is also the biggest poultry processor in the world, and the second biggest pork processor.
JBS Foods Australia operates across 72 location in Australia, and while it does not release Australian production figures, globally the company says: "We have the capacity to process more than 200,000 cattle, 500,000 hogs, 45 million chickens and 80,000 small stock (lambs, sheep, goats and veal calves) per week".
Thomas Foods International is Australia's biggest sheepmeat processor.
The South-Australian-based company revealed on Monday it processes 140,000 small stock a week, with plans to take that up to 160,000 head.
JBS Australia, has four sheep processing plants in NSW, Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia. These, however, are also beef processing plants, with no figures provided on how much capacity is devoted to sheep in those plants.
However, JBS International said globally it could process "80,000 small stock (lambs, sheep, goats and veal calves) per week."
Biggest wine processor
Treasury Wine Estates is Australia's biggest wine processor, by both volume and value.
While not revealing its production numbers, TWE makes the claim of being the nation's biggest.
In Australia, TWE owns and operates seven wineries and two packaging facilities, as well as production plants in the US, New Zealand, Italy and France. Its Australian production is mainly in Victoria and South Australia.
Last year TWE opened the largest "premium winemaking site" in the Southern Hemisphere in SA's Barossa region, with capacity to produce more than 100 million litres of wine annually.
TWE brands include Wolf Blass, Squealing Pig and the iconic Penfolds.
Biggest dairy processor
In a highly competitive field, Australia's dairy processors keep their milk processing numbers close to their chest.
But Saputo's admission it was no longer the biggest meant Bega was the likely title holder, having been bolstered by its $534 million purchase of Lion Dairy and Drinks in 2020.
Biggest grain processor / exporter
Australia's biggest flour milller is the Manildra Group. The company has four mills across Australia, including the biggest flour mill in Australia, in central west NSW, and the biggest wheat starch and gluten mill in the world, on the NSW south coast.
According to the company, the four mills "process over 1 million metric tonnes of wheat per annum; almost one-sixth of NSW's total annual production".
"This is enough flour to make over 100 loaves of bread every second."
However, significantly more grain is exported than processed in Australia, with a record 40.6. million tonnes exported in 2021-22, which represented more than 60 per cent of the total crop that year.
West Australian co-operative CBH was the biggest exporter of grain, shipping 16.7 million tonnes from its port terminals.
East coast grain handler GrainCorp exported 9.2 million tonnes.
Biggest wool processor / exporter
According to a company spokeswoman, Michell Wool processes 13,500 tonnes of greasy wool annually, and exports nearly all of that.
The largest overall exporter of wool is Techwool Trading, which last year bought 236,574 bales (about 28,400 tonnes) for export, or just under 15 per cent of all wool offered through the Australian Wool Exchange. The second largest exporter was Endeavour Wool Exports, which bought 184,465 bales (just over 22,000 tones), or just over 11 per cent of all wool sold at auction.
Next Monday: Our exclusive list of the nation's record price breakers.
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