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Who owns Australia’s farms 2021: Top 10 by value

Offshore funds buying more farmland are prominent among the top 10 investors in Australian agriculture. We name the biggest.

The top 10 investors in Australian agriculture:

1. PSP INVESTMENTS

$4 BILLION

When it comes to identifying formidable forces in Australian agriculture, you’d struggle to look past PSP Investments.

The Canadian pension fund, which manages the superannuation of the nation’s public sector and armed forces in addition to the iconic 30,000 member-strong Royal Canadian Mounted police, has, in the past five years, put together a huge portfolio of Australian farmland and water assets worth an estimated $4 billion.

Their investments include two of the biggest-ever deals in Australian agriculture – the $360 million purchase of 12,000 hectares of almond orchards, and 90,000 megalitres of high-security water, at Robinvale in northern Victoria in 2019 and the $854 billion take over of ASX-listed Webster Limited and its 340,000 hectares and 153,000 megalitres of water.

The Montreal-based PSP now has a footprint of more than 1.4 million hectares in Australia through its joint-venture operations. Its investments include the Daybreak Cropping portfolio of seven aggregations totalling 75,220 hectares, Hewitt Cattle Australia’s 15 beef and sheep stations covering 1.15 million hectares, more than 10 almond, macadamia, pecan and walnut orchards under its Stahmann Webster banner, in addition to other cropping and horticulture endeavours.

In the past year it has been active in the dairy space, increasing the size of its Aurora Dairies business to 11,920 hectares over 32 farms, which are home to 19,340 dairy cows producing 158 million litres of milk.

2. MACQUARIE AGRICULTURE

$3 BILLION-PLUS

Macquarie Agriculture has put down solid roots in Australia’s agriculture industry over the past 15 years.

Through three agriculture-specific investment funds – Paraway Pastoral Company, Lawson Grains and Viridis Ag – Macquarie Agriculture oversees 4.7 million hectares, which runs more than 220,000 cattle, 250,000 sheep and produces a huge variety of irrigated and dryland crops.

Its Paraway Pastoral business, founded in 2007 with the purchase of the famed Pooginook Merino property and stud at Jerilderie in NSW, has grown to 4.47 million hectares spread across 28 aggregations in NSW, Queensland and Victoria while its cropping-specific Lawson Grains – currently on the market for an estimated $600 million – has accumulated 91,500 hectares of developed cropping country since its inception almost a decade ago across 10 aggregations in Western Australia and NSW.

Macquarie’s more recent Viridis Ag venture comprises 105,000 hectares of mixed-farming country in Western Australia, South Australia and NSW.

In addition to the Paraway, Lawson and Viridis funds, Macquarie purchased a 49 per cent stake in Australia’s largest cotton farm – Cubbie Station at Dirranbandi in Queensland – in 2019 and at the time of going to press were in a bidding war with ROC Partners for Vitalharvest’s berry and citrus operations for about $330 million.

3. TIAA-CREF

$1.8 BILLION-PLUS

American teachers are ruling the school when it comes to investment in prime Australian cropping country.

The New York-based Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America and College Retirement Equities Fund, through its asset manager subsidiary Nuveen, has put together a massive portfolio of farms in Western Australia, NSW, Queensland and Victoria in recent decades.

According to its website, Nuveen oversees a whopping 284,000 hectares of developed cropping country in Australia, spread across 73 properties and aggregations. Its local land and water assets are rumoured to be valued north of $1.8 billion.

Australia is seen as an important part of TIAA-CREF’s investment strategy. According to its latest farmland sustainability report, Nuveen had almost 915,000 hectares under management globally at

the end of 2019, valued at more than $US8 billion. This represents an increase from 850,000 hectares in 2018 and 769,000 hectares in 2017.

The report said its Australian operations spanned 358,065 hectares worth $US1.15 billion, accounting for 39 per cent of its worldwide acreage footprint and 14 per cent of its value.

Its biggest footprint is in Western Australia with 159,698 hectares, accounting for 45 per cent of local landholdings, followed by NSW (150,314 hectares or 42 per cent), Queensland (40,927 hectares or 11 per cent) and Victoria (7124 hectares or 2 per cent).

Last year TIAA-CREF off-loaded seven farms totalling 4174 hectares around Culcairn in NSW for more than $40 million.

— Shannon Twomey

4. RURAL FUNDS GROUP

$1.1 BILLION

Almonds, cattle, vineyards, cropping and macadamias are proving the perfect smorgasbord for the ASX-listed Rural Funds Group, which now has $1.1 billion worth of investments in Australian agriculture.

The group’s 4139-hectare NSW almond farm business is valued at $382.1 million, its beef business, which comprises 672,665 hectares of grazing country and 150,000-head feedlot capacity, is worth

$357.8 million while its cropping arm, centred on 24 properties and 11,962 hectares in Queensland, is valued at $115.6 million. In addition, it has vineyard and macadamia businesses valued at $63.4 million and $58 million respectively.

Rural Funds last year sold its Mooral almond venture at Hillston in NSW to US-based Hancock Agricultural Investment Group for $98 million.

5. HANCOCK AGRICULTURAL INVESTMENT GROUP

$1 BILLION-PLUS

Boston-based Hancock Agricultural Investment Group has flexed its investment muscles in Australia farmland in recent years.

HAIG manages about US$3.7 billion worth of farmland globally. It has been investing in Australia since 2000 and its current operations comprise 48,450 hectares in NSW, Victoria, South Australia and Queensland. In 2020 it paid more than $120 million for 19,877 hectares of cotton and almond farms near Hillston in NSW from Harvard University’s endowment fund and $98 million for Rural Funds Group’s Mooral almond business, also at Hillston.

In the same year it also secured the 18,000-hectare Norman Farming aggregation near Toobeah in Queensland for more than $105 million.

6. GOFARM

$1 BILLION-PLUS

GoFarm is another of Australian agriculture’s billion-dollar babies.

The locally based investor, developer and investment manager has about 70,000 hectares of prime agricultural and horticultural land across southern Australia under management. According to its website, the farms are either operated or suitable for grains, oilseeds and pulses, citrus, berries, wine grapes and nut crops “all supported by a significant and diversified water entitlement portfolio”.

In 2019, goFarm’s Akuna Trust began raising $100 million to purchase 28 dairy farms on the Murray Valley Katunga deep lead aquifer, in a bid to convert them to almond blocks.

7. CK LIFE SCIENCES

$1 BILLION

Hong Kong’s CK Life Sciences is raising a glass to Australia’s agricultural industry through a $1 billion investment in vineyards.

The Hong Kong Stock Exchange-listed company, which is involved in nutraceuticals and pharmaceuticals as well as agriculture, owns more than 40 vineyards across Australia and New Zealand.

Its Belvino Investments portfolio comprises 26 vineyards covering 6900 hectares, along with considerable irrigation water entitlements. Of those vineyards, 17 are in Australia – in South

Australia’s Barossa, Padthaway, Coonawarra and Riverland regions, the NSW Riverina and Margaret River in Western Australia, and are primarily leased to major wine companies or used to grow grapes under contract. CK Life Sciences has another 19 vineyards in South Australia, NSW, Victoria, Western Australia and New Zealand’s South Island.

8. GINA RINEHART HANCOCK PROSPECTING/ UTBACK BEEF

$1 BILLION

Whether it be as a mining magnate, Australia’s richest woman or philanthropist, Gina Rinehart wears many hats. But it’s her cattle-queen crown that has perhaps been most recognisable in recent years.

Rinehart is at the helm of one of the nation’s biggest pastoral empires, overseeing about 10 million hectares of land with the capacity to run more than 340,000 cattle and assets valued at $1 billion.

Her Hancock Prospecting business accounts for about 2.2 million hectares, with more than 15 properties in the Northern Territory, NSW, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia.

Hancock also owns the majority stake in Outback Beef, an Australian-Chinese consortium that purchased iconic pastoral business S Kidman and Co for $386.5 million in 2016.

Rinehart is looking to off-load 1.9 million hectares, having last month listed seven cattle stations and a feedlot in the Northern Territory and Western Australia. According to industry sources, the profits from any sale – expected to generate $300 million – might be used by Rinehart to buy out her Chinese partners in S Kidman and Co.

9. AUSTRALIAN AGRICULTURAL COMPANY

$810.6 MILLION (at March 2020)

If there ever was a jewel in Australia’s pastoral crown it would have to be the Australian Agricultural Company.

Founded 197 years ago by an act of British parliament, AACo is Australia’s biggest integrated cattle and beef producer in addition to holding the mantle of Australia’s oldest continuously operating company. It operates the nation’s largest beef herd of 350,000 cattle occupying 6.4 million hectares across Queensland and the Northern Territory. The AACo footprint is equal to about 1 per cent of the nation’s land mass.

Now an ASX-listed company, AACo’s stations and improvements were valued at $810.6 million at March 31 last year – up from $738.5 million in 2019 and $696.2 million in 2018.

Its biggest investor is UK billionaire businessman Joe Lewis, who owns a 45 percent-plus stake.

10. NORTH AUSTRALIAN PASTORAL COMPANY

$800 MILLION-PLUS

The North Australian Pastoral Company is one of Australia’s oldest and largest beef companies, with more than six million hectares and an estimated $800 million in assets under its belt.

Running about 200,000 cattle on 14 stations totalling 6.6 million hectares in Queensland and the Northern Territory, the company is majority owned by the Queensland Government-backed Queensland Investment Corporation, which paid $400 million for a 79 per cent stake in 2016.

Tasmania’s Foster family, which first bought into NAPCO in 1937, owns the remaining 21 per cent.

Among NAPCO’s recent purchases were the 135,000-hectare Mantuan Downs Station in central Queensland earlier last year for $98 million from pastoral giant Clark and Tait.

The biggest property in its stable is the 1.64 million-hectare Alexandria Station at Camooweal, which was the company’s first acquisition in 1877.

James Wagstaff, The Weekly Times