Killarney is still a goer: Leitch
COULD it be a case of one down and one to go?
Dudley Leitch reckons it is, with the shut-down Pittsworth Abattoir under contract and overseas interests reportedly eyeing off its former Leitch Pastoral Group counterpart at Killarney.
While local meat sector players remain deeply sceptical about the prospect of Killarney Abattoir ever re-opening its gates, the man at the centre of the storm was yesterday talking things up – and talking big.
Tenders for the sale of both plants closed on May 21, with an undisclosed buyer having signed a contract on Pittsworth which is due to settle on June 28.
Mr Leitch yesterday declined to name the buyer, citing a confidentiality clause in the contract, but said the plant could be killing “within weeks” and that he was hopeful former locals would be re-employed.
But closer to home, he revealed talks had been underway with overseas as well as interstate and Queensland-based meat industry interests about the possible purchase of the Killarney operation.
“I am not able to say who the interested parties are at this stage,” Mr Leitch told the Daily News.
“But the interest is there and I am feeling confident Killarney will be up and running again and soon.
“The potential buyer from overseas has flown a considerable distance to inspect the plant.”
Mr Leitch said the inspection would take place today and he would be present along with marketing agents Elders.
He said he believed both Pittsworth and Killarney could operate viably on a “service kill only” basis for cattle, sheep and pigs, with no meat wholesaling dimension and that Killarney's market would be the same as before.
“If a syndicate of big Brisbane butchers had got together and bought Pittsworth that might have made Killarney difficult, but that is not what has happened and Killarney if re-opened would operate much as before, with the potential to export,” Mr Leitch said.
News of a possible buyer for Killarney is unlikely to provide much comfort to unsecured creditors, including dozens of locally-owned family firms who are owed close to $8 million following the collapse of both abattoirs in February.
Mr Leitch conceded proceeds from the Pittsworth sale – and those from any future Killarney sale – would be delivered to Rural Bank, which is the primary secured creditor from both operations.
But with many of the former Killarney workforce now having found work elsewhere a sale may come too late for them at least.
Rumours have suggested the Pittsworth abattoir has been bought by pork processor Swickers of Kingaroy, with calls by the Daily News to Swickers not returned by time of printing last night.
Mr Leitch yesterday declared he was “here to stay” and would continue to tend his 60,000-head Dorper and Damara sheep flock on the traprock west of Warwick where he spends most of his time, dividing himself between his properties and his family home in Brisbane.
But he said he was keen to “get out” of the abattoir business and for his former plants to resume operation under new ownership.
“I bought Pittsworth because I thought it would be good for the community and I needed somewhere to kill my sheep,” Mr Leitch said. “We spent $6m on it so I never expected that it was going to make a lot of money.”
In a candid interview, Mr Leitch conceded he had “stuffed up” by not bringing together early enough the meat wholesale arms of Pittsworth and Killarney, which were effectively in competition with each other when both were initially owned by Leitch Pastoral Group.
But he repeated his earlier statement that the decision to seek commercial advice from consultants Grant Thornton had been taken at a meeting of the former management team, which Mr Leitch said had reached a consensus they were “not up to the job”.
He said as sole director of the ownership entities he had made the decision to place the abattoirs in voluntary administration and took “full responsibility” for the eventual liquidation of both operations.
He also talked openly about his health throughout 2009 which he said led to a diagnosis of “extreme diabetes and internal bleeding”, which he admitted had made him “tired and unstable” at times and reduced his ability to focus on his abattoir operations.
“I have the blood sugar under control now, but I was pretty crook for a time – I had to get someone to drive me down here from Brisbane,” Mr Leitch said.
“But I am a tough nut and I never shy away from a challenge.
“What I want to focus on now is my core business, which is sheep.
“We'll go forward and will re-open our beef feedlots at Millmerran and Berrima (near Killarney).”
He conceded he currently had “considerable debt” with his remaining Leitch Pastoral Group entities, owned separately to the abattoirs, but with a large equity position and a “modestly-geared” farming operation.
He said he had been “tidying up” the Killarney site and removing unusable items “not detrimental to any sale” in recent weeks.