Fu­ture un­clear for chicken farmer af­ter clo­sure

The Western Star - - RURAL WEEKLY - He­len Speli­tis

CHOOK farmer Matthew Van Den Brink has never known any­thing but life on his fam­ily farm.

He’s one of 26 chicken farm­ers whose fu­tures have fallen un­der a cloud of un­cer­tainty fol­low­ing Ba­iada’s de­ci­sion to pre­ma­turely can­cel all sup­ply con­tracts in south-east Queens­land.

Matthew has two young chil­dren, no for­mal trade qual­i­fi­ca­tions and he’s mil­lions of dol­lars in debt af­ter buy­ing the farm from his par­ents in 2009.

He wanted to give his chil­dren the same child­hood he had, but that fu­ture is fad­ing.

De­spite Ba­iada’s shock de­ci­sion to close its plant at Wulka­raka, the chicken farm­ing in­dus­try is strong and grow­ing steadily.

Each year on his farm at Milora, 25km south of Ip­swich, Matthew raises about one mil­lion chick­ens for the south-east Queens­land meat mar­ket.

In April, he fin­ished build­ing two new sheds, again on bor­rowed money, not know­ing the rug was about to be pulled out from un­der­neath him.

He has one batch left to sup­ply to Ba­iada be­fore the money stops flow­ing. If he can’t se­cure a new con­tract, he will lose ev­ery­thing.

“The bank will take it off me and I will walk away with noth­ing,” Matthew said.

“It feels hor­ri­ble. I have worked my butt off for the past eight years and for it to be taken away like this would be pretty hor­ri­ble.

“There’s no point cry­ing about it at this stage.

“We have to fight the fight and see what we can do.”

Matthew’s par­ents started the farm in 1972. For the first few years, they grew small crops and raised pigs.

“My ear­li­est mem­ory on the farm is be­ing down in the pig shed, eat­ing the pig food (grain) with the pigs,” he said.

“I re­mem­ber help­ing my fa­ther put the day-old chicks in the shed. We were taught to care for them, but also that they were our in­come.

“The ques­tion I have been asked is, ‘Why can’t you just take your chooks else­where?’

“Well, we don’t own the chooks. They are supplied as day-old chooks and we get paid to grow them.

“I need a con­tract with an­other pro­ces­sor. There are two oth­ers in south-east Queens­land: Ing­hams and Golden Cock­erel.

“But ob­vi­ously, there’s not enough room to give a con­tract to ev­ery one of the 26 grow­ers Ba­iada have let go.”

Like the 26 other chicken farm­ers af­fected by the pend­ing clo­sure of the Wulku­raka fa­cil­ity in Jan­uary, Matthew had no warn­ing of the de­ci­sion.

“When I found out, I was on the farm hav­ing lunch.

“An­other grower called and asked if I had checked my email. I hadn’t. He said, ‘Well you’d bet­ter, and you bet­ter be sit­ting down when you do,’ ” Matthew said.

Matthew doesn’t want to ad­mit it, but he’s afraid.

“Every­one is in the same boat,” he said.

“Ev­ery grower has some sort of debt.

“I’m prob­a­bly un­der a lot more debt than oth­ers.”

An­nounc­ing the clo­sure, Ba­iada said mar­ket con­di­tions re­quired the com­pany to con­sol­i­date its na­tional pro­cess­ing op­er­a­tions.

This meant it could “no longer vi­ably op­er­ate the Ip­swich fa­cil­ity in the medium to long term”, the Ba­iada state­ment read.

PHOTO: CON­TRIB­UTED

TRAPPED: Chook farmer Matthew Van Den Brink is one of 26 af­fected by the clo­sure of the Steggles Wulku­raka pro­cess­ing plant in Jan­uary. He is mil­lions of dol­lars in debt and afraid for his fu­ture, and the fu­ture of his chil­dren.

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