'I'm heavily in debt and scared': Farmer's time running out

TRAPPED: Chook farmer Matthew Van Den Brink is one of 26 farmers affected by closure of Steggles Wulkuraka processing plant in January.
TRAPPED: Chook farmer Matthew Van Den Brink is one of 26 farmers affected by closure of Steggles Wulkuraka processing plant in January.

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 Baida'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.

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, Matthew 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 Cockrell.

"But obviously, there's not enough room to give a contract to every one of the 26 growers Baida 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..."

In a statement announcing the closure, Baiada said market conditions required it to consolidate its national processing operations.

"... meaning we can no longer viably operate the Ipswich facility in the medium to long term," the statement read.

Topics:  farming job losses steggles ipswich

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