HANDSHAKE agreements are understood to have been reached on the sale of four large northern Australian cattle properties owned and operated by Gina Rinehart and her Chinese business partner Shanghai CRED under the S. Kidman flag.
Beef Central understands that final formal contracts have not yet been exchanged, but the terms of each deal have been reached.
As Beef Central first reported in November, S. Kidman proposed to sell three of its historic Channel Country backgrounding and grass-finishing holdings – Naryilco, Glengyle and Durrie, totalling almost 20,000sq km in southwest Queensland, and a separate offering of 4500sq km Brunchilly Station, just below Helen Springs in the Northern Territory’s Barkly Tableland region.
To avoid any confusion, Kidman intends retaining Durham Downs, one of its other Channel Country properties further south on the Cooper Creek, and major breeding property Helen Springs, to the northwest of Brunchilly on the Barkly.
Two large family-backed Australian grazing entities have emerged as the likely new owners of the four properties.
Beef Central understands the three Channel Country holdings, with a capacity of around 35,000 head, are being bought by Dale Appleton and family, Appleton Cattle Co, Clermont. The Appleton cattle business is based at Yarmina, a showcase property near Clermont, bought from Charles Lund, and includes a number of other large grazing properties in the Belyando River and Hughenden regions including Bulliwallah, Islay Plains and Fairlight.
The Appleton family breeds Brahman, Charolais and Simmental cross F1 cattle finishing heavy export ox on grass at two-and-a-half and three years of age. Some of the properties have transitioned to Certified Organic status, with production directed through Arcadian Meat Co.
The three Kidman properties would represent the Appletons’ first venture into Queensland’s Channel Country grass finishing region, although Beef Central understands the family operation may have agisted cattle in the Channels previously.
In a separate deal developing at much the same pace, it’s understood that handshake agreement has been reached on the sale of Kidman’s Brunchilly Station in the Northern Territory’s Barkly region to prominent cattleman Malcolm Harris, head of Cleveland Agriculture. Independent sources suggested that Brunchilly has capacity for around 20,000 head.
Mungindi-based Malcolm Harris and family’s Cleveland Agriculture operates large-scale irrigated and dryland cropping and grazing operations across four states and territories.
Mr Harris already owns the ajoining Rockhampton Downs, 5000sq km due east of Brunchilly. The combination of Brunchilly and Rockhampton Downs would create a colossal Barkly breeding footprint of around 10,000sq km.
Cleveland Agriculture in 2019 also bought 2479sq km Ucharonidge, further north on the Barkly towards Newcastle Waters. Ucharonidge borders Beetaloo and Mungabroom.
Back in 2016 the Harris family bought Benmara Station, a 450,000ha Barkly Tablelands property northeast of Brunette Downs towards the Queensland border, with an estimated carrying capacity of 20,000 cattle. A price of $12 million was suggested at the time.
The Harris’s NT portfolio now accounts for almost 17,000sq km of country, not counting their original northern grazing holding, Gogo Station in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, bought back in 2010.
Outside the Northern Territory, in 2018 Cleveland Ag bought CPC’s prized large-scale channel country bullock fattening depot Nockatunga Station. Widely regarded as one of Queensland’s best bullock depots, 852,000ha Nockatunga is located in the state’s far southwest corner, 125km west of Thargomindah. Speculation suggested a price as high as $50 million for that deal, including 5000 head of cattle and station plant.
In 2016 the Harris family joined prominent privateer northern beef producers Stirling Buntine, Tom Brinkworth and Viv Oldfield to mount a $386 million bid for S. Kidman & Co, ultimately losing-out to Gina Rinehart’s consortium involving a Chinese minor shareholding.
Here’s a rundown on the four Kidman properties that look like changing hands:
- Glengyle Station covers 5500sq km on the Georgina River. The property plays an important role in Kidman’s overall cattle flow, linking northern breeding properties with southern markets. Fed by the Georgina River system, flooding channel country waterways flow through the majority of the property, which has a carrying capacity around 8500 head.
- Durrie Station 6600sq km to the southeast of Glengyle on the Diamantina was acquired by Sidney Kidman himself in 1913. Located in the Diamantina channel country, is considered some of the best grazing country in Queensland, traditionally used as a grass bullock depot. The property runs up to 9000 head at any given time, using extensive flood-out areas.
- Naryilco Station, covering 7510sq km, is located on the southern end of Queensland’s channel country, near the border with NSW and South Australia. It has a carrying capacity of 12,000 head. Producing excellent grass bullocks, Naryilco is semi-arid country consisting mainly of soft sandhills, open gibber plains and an area of fertile floodplains thanks to Cooper Creek, Warri Warri and the Wilson River.
- Brunchilly Station 4572sq km is situated on the Barkly Tablelands of the Northern Territory, northeast of Tennant Creek. It sits to the southeast of Kidman’s other large Barkly breeding operation Helen Springs, which is not involved in this sale process. Brunchilly has an average carrying capacity of 24,000 head, mostly used for breeding, run on a mix of fertile black soil downs and softwood scrub country. The property turns off weaner steers annually to the channel country properties, whilst females are retained as replacements for the breeding herd.
Queensland’s Channel Country holdings are notoriously tightly-held by their predominantly pastoral company owners, with many operated by the original owners for a century or more. The area is highly prized for its ability as a ‘grass feedlot’ during times of beneficial flooding out of the Cooper Creek and Diamantina and Georgina Rivers, all flowing towards Lake Eyre.
The total land area involved in the current Kidman asset sale process of some 24,800sq km will make this one of the biggest pastoral land deals in Australia in the past year. Eighteen months ago, Kidman sold a similar area of country around 25,000sq km in Central Australia, but that was much lesser quality country in lower carrying capacity regions. It also sold Ruby Plains and Nerrima Statiuons in the Kimberley in September last year in a deal worth around $100 million.
The location and purpose of each holding involved in the current sale process suggests Kidman is moving sharply away from its historic origins as a large-scale, low-cost grassfed bullock producer, into a future supply chain built more strongly around grainfed beef production fed into the company-owned brand programs. The company also takes great pride in its value-added pre-prepared beef pie program.
Further asset purchases to better fit that grainfed model cannot be ruled out, Beef Central understands.
Kidman is owned and operated by a joint venture comprising WA mining billionaire Gina Rinehart (67pc), and her Chinese business partner Shanghai Cred (33pc). Kidman is run in parallel with Mrs Rinehart’s other large pastoral entity, Hancock Agriculture, with some management extending across both entities. There is no suggestion that Kidman is embracing Wagyu beef production to the same degree that the Hancock Agriculture business is – except for some limited F1 programs, apparently.
The Rinehart/Shanghai CRED joint venture won the Kidman purchase deal after a bitter battle with other contenders, both Australian and offshore. Preserving the Kidman assets was a key plank in the buyers’ platform at the time.
The latest activity continuers a sell-down of S. Kidman assets over the past three years, that will see the only remaining holdings being Helen Springs (5700sq km) in the NT, Morney Plains (6230sq km) in the Channel Country, and the company’s bull breeding depot, Rockybank near Roma in the Maranoa region. The company as it now exists is a mere shell of what it once was, raising questions about its future, or whether it simply gets rolled into the Hancock Ag business.