IT has been exactly one year since a devastating fire destroyed parts of Thomas Foods International’s meatworks at Murray Bridge, yet an announcement of when or where a rebuild might occur is still pending.
On January 3 last year a fire started during maintenance, destroying a boning room and storage area.
The slaughter floors and stock loading areas remained intact, while all animals were evacuated safely.
The plant was TFI's largest, with 1400 employees processing 120,000 sheep and lambs and 4500 cattle a week. The company also had smaller facilities at Lobethal, Tamworth, NSW, and Wallangarra, Qld.
Post-fire, the Lobethal facility moved to a double shift to accommodate at least 500 of the workers, and Rural City of Murray Bridge mayor Brenton Lewis praised the company for its quick thinking.
“We still lost 520 of the short-term visa holders within a fortnight,” he said.
“We lost another couple of hundred workers to facilities in other regions. We hope those workers return when a new factory is built.”
Mr Lewis said TFI was the largest local employer.
“The fire was disastrous for our region,” he said.
“Couple that with the drought, the community has definitely taken a hit.”
There is still a feeling of positivity within the community, Mr Lewis said, with other businesses displaying confidence through growth.
“Adelaide Mushrooms have doubled their production, Big River Pork have also been expanding and there has been organic growth in other local industries,” he said.
“Tourism is also kicking in, with the new motorsport park at Tailem Bend, the Monarto zoo and our new racecourse being built.
“We are looking to turn a corner in 2019 so we remain hopeful TFI will make an announcement in the near future of when they are going to start rebuilding and how long it is going to take.”
TFI was unable to give Stock Journal an update on the progress of the rebuild, but TFI chief executive officer Darren Thomas has said the company was committed to rebuilding in Murray Bridge, whether it was on the present location or a greenfields site. In March, he said the rebuild could be less than two years, but said a time frame was still unclear.
As to effects on local livestock markets, Landmark Fawcett Mount Pleasant auctioneer Colin Fawcett said there had been an early impact on sheep and lamb sales, but it recovered quickly.
“Luckily we were past the busiest part of the year,” he said.
Mr Fawcett said they put the Mount Pleasant weaner sale back a week in January to give TFI time to figure out numbers.
“Thankfully they operated in the sale,” he said. “They’re our largest buyer, particularly on sheep and lambs.
“TFI have tried pretty hard to keep any market disruption to a minimum and they’re still putting out contracts for their feedlot, so that’s pleasing. But it would be nice to see another major cattleworks back in SA.”
Landmark Murray Bridge agent Kev Keller said TFI had also remained supportive at their markets.
“There was a small disruption for a few weeks after the fire, but since they’ve been really good,” he said.
“The Murraylands has had a really tough season, the toughest some people have ever seen, so we look forward to seeing the next phase getting started (of the TFI rebuild).”
TFI is the largest Australian-owned meat processor.