by Chris Tobin
While most workplaces remain closed and shops, cafes, offices and factories look forlornly empty, South Canterbury meat processing plants are going all out ensuring some money keeps flowing into the South Canterbury economy during the Covid-19 lockdown.
Alliance Group’s Smithfield plant and Silver Fern Farms’ Pareora plant are among the region’s biggest companies, employing hundreds of workers.
“We are running our Smithfield plant on extended hours and weekends and our team has also been designing ways to lift our processing capacity further,” Alliance Group’s general manager livestock and shareholder services Danny Hailes said.
“Our current target this week for Smithfield is 90% capacity for ovine and 100% for venison.
“The backlog for ovine is starting to reduce and whilst a number of farmers won’t be seeing this just yet, we expect the improvements we are making will have a meaningful impact on processing waiting times shortly.
“The bovine backlog has stopped growing. We appreciate farmers’ patience and understanding.”
Silver Fern Farms’ Pareora plant was also at full steam, with workers’ cars filling the large staff car park to the limit each day.
Spokesman Justin Courtney said the company reported in its latest supplier update, which applied also to its Pareora plant, that sheep processing capacity had lifted from 50% of a normal five-day week to over 90%; beef processing from 70% to over 90% and venison processing from 60% to over 90%.
“Given the backlog of livestock, everyone at Silver Fern Farms has been acutely aware of the importance of these capacity gains working additional hours, weekends and public holidays.”
The company said that although capacity levels were high there were lengthy waiting times in some regions due to the volume of animals waiting to be processed.
The current wait time at its South Island plants, including Paerora, was two to three weeks for sheep (estimated recovery in third week of May) and beef, five to six weeks (estimated recovery the third week of June).
Until pressure at South Island plants eased, Silver Fern Farms was carting loads of lambs and ewes from the South Island to its North Island plants to lessen the load.
“We plan to continue to do this until the pressure in the South Island eases. We also plan to do this for cattle when North Island beef capacity frees up.
“We are right in the middle of the dairy cow cull in the South Island with cows now taking up over 60% of our processing space. This will continue for the next six weeks.”
Mr Hailes said Smithfield had re-configured processes to increase capacity under the Alert Level 3 protocol.
“MPI has inspected each of our sites and confirmed they are compliant with the new protocol and we are now bedding down the new configurations so we can process more livestock over the coming weeks.”