Silver Fern Farms says it will reassess labour needs at Finegand, alongside external further processing, if a proposal to close its Fairton pelt operation, near Ashburton, goes ahead.

In a statement yesterday, the company said the proposal to close the operation followed a review. As part of the consultation process, 44 staff processing pelts at Fairton and four preparing pelts at Pareora, had been presented with potential redundancy, as well as work options at other Silver Fern Farms sites.

Silver Fern Farms closed its Fairton sheepmeat processing plant, north of Ashburton, in May 2017 following a decline in regional sheep numbers, affecting 370 jobs. It consolidated the region's sheep processing at its Pareora plant, south of Timaru.

Continued low sheepmeat numbers in the South Island had led to excess pelt processing capacity, the company said.

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Pelt processors were also seeing low returns from the global market and those factors, coupled with the high overhead costs due to the large site, was making pelt processing unsustainable at Fairton, it said.

The company proposed consolidating its South Island pelts at its Finegand pelt preparation facility in South Otago, saying it would bring efficiency gains through the early part of the pelting process.

It had investigated alternative processing options with others in the industry and, should the proposal proceed, it intended to consolidate its volumes through other pelt processors ''for mutual benefit''.

Support was being offered to the affected staff and a decision was expected at the end of the month.

• Washdyke tannery NZ Light Leathers recently announced it was phasing out the manufacture of finished deer leather. The company, which employed about 100 staff, had made 32 staff redundant.