A MILK factory in Tasmania’s North-West has been sold to a Thai company on the eve of its closure.
Murray Goulburn announced earlier this year it would close three factories — including the Edith Creek UHT plant near Smithon — by the end of the year.
More than 120 workers were employed at the Tasmanian site, with about 80 remaining as the site winds down.
The dairy giant announced this morning that it has sold its Edith Creek facility to Dutch Mill (Australia), a subsidiary of Dutch Mill group of Thailand, a private processor and
marketer of milk and milk products throughout Asia.
The Thai company has already been buying dairy farms in Circular Head and Mayor Daryl Quilliam said the move into processing was a “watershed moment” for the region.
The sale includes the Edith Creek land and all assets associated with the site.
“The transaction will not alter MG’s previously announced closure of the site on November 30 which will still proceed. Completion of the sale transaction is expected in early 2018,” MG’s chief executive officer Ari Mervis said.
How many Edith Creek’s current workforce will be re-employed under the new ownership is not clear at this stage but it is understood the factory will be operating again by the second quarter of 2018.
Cr Quilliam said it was a “real thrill to welcome and thank Dutch Mill Australia for their exciting news in rescuing Edith Creek”.
He said Dutch Mill (Australia) had acquired six dairy farms in the region over the past three years — all operated by local share farmers.
“I have met the chairman of Dutch Mill Thailand (Mr Thirayuth Chaisawangwong) on a number of occasions and I can say he is a special man with a large vision and a deep social conviction,” he said.
He called the decision from Dutch Mill to invest in local processing “a watershed day”.
“Dutch Mill is a very large Thai company with reach to all ASEAN countries, claiming a present daily reach to 30 million people,” he said.
“The company’s consumers are greater than the population of Australia. This is the sort of market we have longed for — direct access of local Tasmanian milk to the expanding population of Asia.
“I am aware that Dutch Mill have the necessary markets for a large part of Circular Head’s milk production. At present they buy large quantities of milk powder from New Zealand to augment their dairy factories in Thailand.”
While the plans for Edith Creek are not yet known, Cr Quilliam said he was confident the change of ownership would bring great wealth to the area.
“The next five years in dairying promises to be exceptional, and together with Cape Grim beef, I believe Circular Head’s best days are ahead of us,” he said.
Murray Goulburn, meanwhile, thanked Edith Creek employees for their significant contribution.
“The decision to close this processing site was difficult to make, however a necessary step on the journey to ensure the competitiveness of MG,” Mr Mervis said.
“We congratulate Dutch Mill on their acquisition of Edith Creek, and wish them well for the future.”
The National Union of Workers has written to Dutch Mill to seek confirmation that those Murray Goulburn workers who wish to work at the factory under new ownership will be given every opportunity to do so.
NUW spokesman Godfrey Moase said it made sense that people with such experience would “be a huge asset for a new employer”.
“We are also seeking confirmation that workers will be employed on the same wages and conditions under a union enterprise agreement.” Mr Moase said.
Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association dairy council chairman Andrew Lester said while he was not aware of the details of the deal, the sale was good news for the state’s dairy farmers.
“It’s a positive, most definitely,” he said. “It will keep a bit more competition for milk in that region, which is important.”
Mr Lester said he hoped the new owner intended to incorporate Tasmanian branding into its local processing plans.
Braddon MP Joan Rylah — who was chair of the Hodgman Liberal Government’s Circular Head Regional Economic Development Working Group, established when the closure was announced — said the sale would be a big win for the region.
“The purchase is great news for workers and their families, “ she said.
Labor MP Shane Broad said the workers “deserved” today’s announcement.