Silver Fern Farms plant investment Finegand

October 2008
The Otago Daily Times once said that this plant which has been here since 1912 - was the worst polluter in the southern hemisphere, as there was only a one stage primary treatment to take solids out of the waste previously, with the rest of the effluent going straight into the Clutha River. But thats history with this new state of the art plant.


The new effluent treatment plant was commissioned only in the past season, opened officially in late summer. The first part is a primary treatment process to take out the suspended solids. The secondary treatment takes out dissolved meat proteins, suspended soils and grease and fat.

It includes a new physiochemical treatment plant, and an ultraviolet disinfection system. It has to cope with 12,000 cubic metres of effluent every day.

It cost $12 million, and looks quite impressive: its a big stainless steel facility. It works to be 3000 tonnes of dewatered sludge from the plant which goes into the new boiler each year, which has hugely reduced the composting requirements. Thats 80% of the effluent solids produced at Finegand.


The new boiler uses solids from the effluent treatment plant and provides a good proportion, close to 25%, for Finegand. It is a big 8.5MW boiler, and it works alongside the other boiler which is 17MW and runs on coal.

When the new boiler is running it saves 1300 tonnes of coal per year being burnt. It is fuelled with woodwaste and dewatered sludge from the effluent plant.

SFF doesnt own the new boiler: it is owned by EFI (Energy for Industry) which is a Meridian company. SFF leases the boiler back, and the partnership works well. Meridian built the boiler which cost $6.85million.

SFF pays to use the boiler and get the steam back, so didnt have to come up with the up-front cost.

This is the first such boiler in place for SFF, and a similar system could be built at its other plants.

The boiler reduces the plants overall carbon dioxide emission by 2158 tonnes per year. And it has a room called a filter baghouse which filter the smoke to reduce particulate matter emissions into the air.


Balclutha has a population of 4500, and SFF is the regions biggest employer with 1000 people at its Finegand plant. Finegand is the single largest site for the company, and it has a large lamb kill of 1.8million and 60,000 cattle per year.

Its always going to be an issue to get sufficient staff to bone the entire product at Finegand. Thats why some product goes to the Silverstream plant for further processing.

At Silverstream SFF has been trialing robotics in the lamb cutting rooms. They have a joint venture research and development company, Robotic Technologies Ltd, formed with a Dunedin company called Scott Technology which makes robots. They use German robotics.

The aim is to develop a fully automated lamb boning room. So at Finegand robotics are about to be installed for the lamb cutting.

The aim of using robotics is to reduce accidents (because the robotics start to eliminate the really dangerous things like bandsaws), improve safety, save labour. This is a good news story, because there are no redundancies, but instead SFF can better utilize its labour for added value tasks which are safer.

In the long term it will improve the efficiency and cost structure of the whole operation.

Construction has begun with dirt being turned and diggers working.

One of the robots is based on a car welding robot, it has a big orange arm with a knife fitting onto the end, and it automatically loads a leg and bones it out.

Initially this robot is being installed in parallel to the manual line so they can do further development work on it without slowing up the existing line. Progressively it will take over more of the boning work.

The robots will do the basics, cutting the carcase into primal cuts, boning out the leg. The forequarter and other cuts still have to be boned out by hand. But it enables us to better use the existing workforce onto added value tasks.

Theres been some Government funding from FORST and even some from Australian money from Meat and Livestock Australia go into this project also. This is all new technology for meat, and the first such work in NZ. The pork industry overseas uses robotics, but it is a much less complex process.

This work is developing the technology from scratch. It is proven that it works, but the next issue is integrating it into existing facilities.

Different parts of the robotic process go at different speeds: when the carcase is cut into primals, it does it faster than a person. But the machine that bones out the legs goes at a similar speed to a person. But it can go continuously all the time.

Within 12 months we are looking to put it into our other plants.


The first stage is an Xray and primal system: every carcass is scanned with Xrays and from these you get a 3D data of the bone structure, and this is used to work out where the cuts will go. It can see all the bones and dimensions, seeing through the meat to the best cuts to make.

Then the carcase is split into three: a forequarter, a middle and leg. This first part of the robotics machine can work at 10 carcases/minute.

The next stage of the robotics system is boning out the pelvic/aitch bone from the leg, which works at a rate of two per minute.

Future work is happening on boning out the middle and forequarter.