Historic Kapunda company expands to feed surging exports

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By Ian Williams

The days and weeks just aren’t long enough for livestock feed supplier JT Johnson & Sons.

After operating around the clock, seven days a week and still failing to meet surging demand in Asia and the Middle East, the South Australian producer is doubling the size of its Kapunda pellet mill.

The $19 million investment is introducing advanced technologies to the mid-north operation to boost output capacity to more than 200,000 tonnes a year.

It’s the latest milestone for the family-owned business that was started by John Theodore Johnson in nearby Stockport in 1923.

Nearly 100 years later and JT Johnson & Sons is one of Australia’s largest hay and fodder producers with an annual turnover approaching $100 million. More than 85 per cent of production is shipped overseas.

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Robbie, Denis, Chris and Mark Johnson

Today the company is run by brothers Mark and Robbie Johnson, the fourth generation of Johnsons to oversee the business.

Robbie says the new plant was due to be commissioned in July and would enable an immediate lift in annual production to meet strong demand for pellets in China, Indonesia and the Middle East.

“With our current orders we are likely to see production jump to 140,000 tonnes straight away and we expect this to increase further as we sell to export markets that we haven’t previously been able to supply,” says Robbie. “The new mill will give us room to move.”

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The expansion includes a $3 million electrical upgrade at the feed mill which has been supported by a $500,000 grant from the State Government’s Regional Development Fund.

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JT Johnson & Sons relocated to Kapunda in 1957 and is by far the town’s largest employer with about 120 full-time staff. All raw materials are sourced locally or from adjacent regions.

In 1992 the company built a second hay facility on a greenfield site over the Victorian border at Horsham and it also has a smaller factory at Nhill. But while sustained growth has been a feature of the business since it was founded, it still remains true to its family roots.

Chaff Mill and tractor with hay trailer loaded outside of offices and weighbridge 1973

“My brother and I already have a vision for the next generation and we’re doing our best to make sure we hand the business over in good shape,” says Robbie. “We have a fantastic leadership team and a board that helps immensely – and many of them are long-term family friends.

“We work hard to keep that family tradition alive and it’s amazing what people give us in return. Our staff turnover is really low and we have people here who’ve been with us for 40 years or more.”

Header photograph – Clyde Johnson driving J.T Johnson & Sons truck circa 1950s.

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