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  • Hero image
    Quality Australian Hay owners Paul Johns, left, and Scott Somers, right, with employee Bec Winsall at the company’s new Warracknabeal site, which is under construction and set to open early 2025. Picture: PAUL CARRACHER
  • Hero image
    GROUND-BREAKING: QA Hay owners Scott Somers, left, and Paul Johns, right, with employee Bec Winsall prepare to open their Warracknabeal site.
  • Hero image
    QA Hay owners Scott Somers, right, and Paul Johns, left, with employee Bec Winsall at the company's Warraknabeal site.

Warracknabeal's Quality Australian Hay plant’s jobs boost

By Bronwyn Hastings

Quality Australian Hay, the Wimmera’s latest animal-feed hay exporting enterprise, is under construction and set to hire 60-70 full-time workers.

Owned by Warracknabeal farmers Scott Somers and Paul Johns, the Henty Highway site will feature one production shed and three storage sheds, with a sprint-production rate of 28 tonnes an hour.

Mr Somers said site construction was well underway, with footings in place for a 1.1-hectare production shed, and concreting for the 12-hectare site started within the production shed.

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“Barring a front garden bed, the site will be concrete to make sure we don’t have to do any further ground works for many years – concrete takes a bit more chewing,” he said.

From the front entrance, trucks transporting hay to the facility will travel in one of two directions and onto a weighbridge. They will continue to a long-term storage shed, or to the production shed where the hay will be graded and stacked, ready for production.

“In the main production shed, we’ll decontaminate the hay to make sure there’s no foreign objects in it and to comply with export standards, before breaking it down and pressing it into the container packing.

“It needs to be re-pressed to make it exportable – if we put it into a shipping container in the form it comes in, we can’t get enough weight in the containers to ship it around the world.”

QA Hay will purchase all grades of hay and straw from local farmers, with several signing up at a growers’ day in February.

Mr Johns said both his and Mr Somers’ families had lived in the Warracknabeal  district for generations.

“We’re farmers ourselves, Scott is sixth-generation, I’m fourth-generation – we wanted to do something different, have another option for farmers,” he said.

“It’s taken six years to this point, from the first beer and casual thought, then the next discussion was, ‘far out, that’s big’.”

Mr Somers said the concept grew over the years.

“We were going to build the plant on my farm and produce about 25,000 tonnes, enough to do our own hay, but then we decided we’d make it on a mutual facility,” he said.

“After another year or so, we approached a local farmer and told him what we were going to do, and ended up here.”

Mr Johns said the Covid-19 pandemic delayed the project, delaying the subdivision for 18 months.

“It was like the chicken and the egg, it seemed you needed the other one first – you can’t subdivide unless you have a planning permit, and the planning permit won’t pass unless you have a subdivision.”

During the Covid-19 delay, the concept was still being developed.

“We finally broke ground and shifted 30-odd-thousand tonnes of dirt to level the site, then we got really wet a few years ago,” Mr Somers said.

“We lost our general manager, he was killed in a road accident, we then pulled the pin and said it was never going to happen.”

However, the project suddenly fell into place with a new general manager and Bec Winsall joining the team in September.

“We were full steam ahead – we were too far in to turn back,” Mr Somers said.

The production shed will be fully air- conditioned and will include an office and board room. 

The site boasts the latest fire-detection technology, hay plant management software, expert safety plan layout and a dust management system.

Mr Johns said when he and Mr Somers first talked about starting the business, they wanted to employ as many local people as possible.

“We have the local earthworks guy, the local concrete guy – in this calibre of job, you usually get people from major centres, who ultimately take the money out of town. Housing may be an issue, but our main reason for this is to support our town,” he said.

Mr Somers said the pair wanted to encourage people to live and work at Warracknabeal, offering both skilled and unskilled roles at the site.

“We will have 60 to 70 full-time jobs. It’s not finalised yet, but we have the basic ones lined up and we’re putting lackeys on now,” he said.

“It’ll be six months before we need the rest of the workforce, and a lot can happen in six months.”

In the meantime, mains power to the site is being upgraded, and three storage sheds will have solar panels installed on top to supply more power than the plant uses.

Mr Somers said the production shed would be the first of four sheds erected.

“We were supposed to start the install of the machines in July. We’re a little bit behind schedule, but it’s probably not a real problem,” he said.

“We’re concreting through now, so the shed builders aren’t affected if it rains – the first load of the shed is coming on site shortly.

“It’s a big facility – it’s probably the one thing that’s surprising everyone the most.”

The plant will operate 24-hours-a-day across a five-day week, with an estimated average output of 28 tonnes each hour, and 120,000 to 130,000 tonnes each year. 

If there is demand, production can increase to seven days a week.

“It started as a few million dollars and mates stuffing around, and is now a multi-million-dollar venture,” Mr Somers said.

The entire June 26, 2024 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!

The entire June, 26, 2024 edition of AgLife is available online. READ IT HERE!