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TAS Country : March 8th 2012
Friday, March 9, 2012 Tasmanian Country 3 News Twin blows strike food exporter ROGER HANSON HANDS-ON: Webster Limited chairman Rod Roberts inspects onions at the company's packing shed at Forth. ' If we send product to Singapore, the Bass Strait leg is 50 per cent of the cost; to Japan it's 55 per cent. It is really tough for Tasmanian exporters' ---MANAGING DIRECTOR LEIGH TITMUS THE two core commodities of a Tas- manian agribusiness have been hit by the strong Australian dollar and the cost of freight. Webster Limited, which is now totally focused on land-based food production, has two operating div- isions, Field Fresh Tasmania (FFT) and Walnuts Australia. Its head office is in the heart of Tasmania's rich vegetable-growing area, in the North-West Coast town of Forth. Both divisions are export- focused, producing brown onions and in-shell walnuts. The two major products are grown and processed under stringent quality conditions, ensuring high standards and safe food. The combined effect of freight costs and the exchange rate contributed to the company making a loss in the half- year to December 31, 2011. Managing director Leigh Titmus said there were major issues operating within Australia'S two-speed economy. ''You have the mining industry speeding along, and then the rest of the economy slowing,'' Mr Titmus said. ''We are forced through the port of Melbourne, but there is no freight equalisation for export product.'' He said the biggest cost hurdle for experts was Bass Strait. ''For exporters, 32 per cent of freight cost to Antwerp or Hamburg is just getting it across Bass Strait,'' Mr Titmus said. ''If we send product to Singapore, the Bass Strait leg is 50 per cent of the cost; to Japan it's 55 per cent. It is really tough for Tasmanian exporters.'' The company's result is better than for the previous year, the $67,000 loss comparing with a $1.6 million loss for the corresponding period in 2010. Webster Limited chairman Rod Ro- berts said the company expected to make a before-tax profit by the end of this financial year. ''The main market for onions in Europe is soft, due to larger carry-over stocks from the preceding European season and an increase in production from New Zealand,'' Mr Roberts said. ''However, the Japanese market is relatively firm, with the yen not having depreciated as much as the euro against the Australian dollar.'' He said that despite tough con- ditions, Webster expected to report an increase on last year's before-tax profit of $1.9 million. Most of the 52,500 tonnes of onions the company produces are grown annually in the North-West. Currently FFT is Australia's largest exporter of brown and red onions. In 2010, Webster Limited undertook a strategic review of operations. Narrowing its focus to two core products, it exited its loss-making carrot operations and retired a signifi- cant amount of debt by divesting its shares in salmon producer Tassal Group Limited. The company consolidated its pos- ition as the southern hemisphere's largest walnut orchard manager and producer by acquiring 1365ha of or- chards in the Riverina previously owned by Gunns Limited. Webster Limited is Australia's largest walnut grower, producing about 1400 tonnes of in-shell walnuts. Fighting the freight battle, P4-5 The mid-size Ranger 500EFI is priced below some opposition big-bore ATVs -- but can carry more, tow more and seat two. *Offer ends 30th April 2012 at participating dealers. Limited stock available. Not valid with any other offer. Excludes fleet clients. 1300 654 142 www.polarisindustries.com.au TIPPING DUMP BOX IND P ND NT U P N ION ON D M ND T U D I UN O ING DI AWD Mode Mode G 22 / YING / P Y O D BIG-TIME WORK, MID-SIZE VALUE. $14,995DRIVE AWAY S SI IZ ZE E V VA AL LU UE E.
February 23rd 2012
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