by Marian Faa
CONVERSATIONS over the recommissioning of the Thomas Foods abattoir at Wallangarra are ongoing after a huge fire devastated another of the company's meat processing facilities, Murray Bridge, putting a major halt on sheep and beef production.
Southern Downs Mayor Tracy Dobie spoke with Nick Thomas, a co-owner of family business Thomas Foods International when the facility caught fire on January 3.
"We are working with them to look at what options are available to them," Cr Dobie said.
As one of the country's largest meat processors, Thomas Foods International is seeking alternative arrangements.
The Murray Bridge facility caught fire in a welding accident, leaving a major hole in the country's meat processing industry.
The abattoir processed 1000 head of cattle and 11,000 sheep each day.
Some of the work has been transferred to a site in Lobethal, but discussions about how to meet production requirements are ongoing.
"Wallangarra is one of their options but it's a business decision they will have to make," Cr Dobie said.
"When it was operational the Wallangarra facility was processing about one-sixth of what has been processed at Murray Bridge."
Cr Dobie said an early reopening would bring major benefits to the region.
"It certainly would be great if they were to reopen Wallangarra earlier than they planned."
"Any employment is wonderful in our region - it brings more people, it brings more residents, it means that our rate-payer base grows and businesses profit off the back of that."
The Wallangarra facility closed temporarily in July 2016 due to stock shortages, causing a loss of about 50 jobs.
Thomas Foods is waiting for flock numbers to increase before reopening the facility, but Cr Dobie said no official date had been set.
"We are in constant communication with Thomas Foods," she said.
Prior to the facility's closure, Thomas Foods was transporting livestock over the border from New South Wales to fill the shortage.
"This solution was not financially viable, which is why the facility had to close," Cr Dobie said.
"Right now farmers in our region are trying to build up their sheep flocks again to fill that demand," Cr Dobie said.
"The dynamic that has changed now is the fire, but we still don't know the implications of this."