Australia’s largest private land owner to sell cattle business

Sydney | Reuters — Australia’s largest private land owner will sell its cattle operations, including the world’s largest ranch and an area equivalent in size to South Korea, to raise cash for other businesses and investments.

S. Kidman and Co. said it will sell its privately owned 11 cattle stations and a feedlot, complete with more than 200,000 head of cattle and more than 25 million acres of land spread across Western Australia, the Northern Territory, Queensland and South Australia.

The announcement of the sale — which is expected to attract significant foreign interest — comes a month after the government said it would clamp down on foreign ownership of agricultural land.

The cattle stations on offer include Anna Creek, the world’s largest cattle farm at more than 23,000 sq. km.

S. Kidman and Co. managing director, Greg Campbell, said the sales decision by the Kidman family was driven by a desire to capitalize on demand for Australian agricultural assets.

“Many of the family have other existing investments in Australian agriculture and elsewhere and the sale will allow them to convert long term capital gains into cash to support their other businesses and investments,” Campbell said.

Australia is the world’s third largest exporter of beef — selling more than 1.5 million tonnes a year of the red meat — according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Australian agricultural assets have become increasingly desirable despite the often volatile incomes, and some industry experts estimate more than 20 per cent of Australian agricultural land is owned by overseas investors.

Concerned it is losing control of its own food security, Australia in February slashed the amount beyond which land purchases would require regulatory approval.

From March 1, foreign purchases of agricultural land over A$15 million (C$14.6 million) are subject to regulatory approval from Australia’s Foreign Investment Review Board.

London-based private equity company Terra Firma was last year rumoured to be interested in purchasing a 50 per cent stake in S. Kidman and Co. in a deal valuing the Australian beef producer at between A$250 million and $300 million.

“The company is in excellent financial shape, being debt free with no mortgages over any assets,” said Campbell.

S. Kidman and Co’s business produces an average 15,000 tonnes of beef each year, supplying 1.3 per cent of Australia’s slaughtered beef exports, the company said.

Colin Packham is a commodities correspondent for Reuters in Sydney, Australia.

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