Property: Big Northern cattle offerings will help re-define market value

Jon Condon, 24/02/2014


EXCLUDING a few receivership sales, there has been a distinct void in property market circles for large-scale northern Queensland cattle enterprises since the Indonesian market closure and collapse in live exports in mid-2011.

But with the revival in live export market fortunes since late last year, it was only a matter of time before some substantial cattle enterprises again started coming forward to test the market, and it appears to be happening now.

Chudleigh Park, northwest of Charters Towers, includes about 18,000 breedersAdd to that the recent rain episode benefitting some northern grazing areas, and it has taken two of the big ‘negatives’ out of the play in the property marketing equation, it seems.

Clear evidence of that has been seen in the Charters Towers district property, Niall Station, which is being marketed through tender by Colliers, under receivers’ instructions.

Colliers rural spokesman Rawdon Briggs said the 43,000ha property north of Charters Towers had received up to 250mm of rain out of recent falls, turning around what was otherwise shaping up as a very poor season. It will easily run 4500 breeders and +6000 head in total.  

On top of the frantic live export boat trade and high prices seen so far this year out of the nearby Port of Townsville, this had translated into ‘very strong’ interest in Niall over the past few weeks, since it was placed on the market, Mr Briggs said.  

Another large-scale cattle aggregation being offered soon will also help re-set benchmarks for northern grazing land values, as the live export market collapse era passes.

Well-known cattleman Peter Camm, who last June bought Sir Graeme McCamley’s Glenprairie station in Central Queensland, has decided to offer his three large Charters Towers district breeding and growing properties carrying an estimated 30,000 breeders.

The early May auction sale of Chudleigh Park, Goldsborough and Lolworth will provide valuable guidance over the market’s appetite for investment in larger-scale northern grazing land, at a time when the live export trade is regaining considerable momentum.

Here’s a run-down of what’s being offered:

  • Chudleigh Park, 182,000ha northwest of Charters Towers, includes about 18,000 breeders
  • Lolworth, 26,400ha about 100km northwest of Charters Towers. It was bought by Mr Camm in 2009 with 5000 cattle. In a preliminary adbvertisement, it has been suggested the property currently carries about 8000 breeders, but local contacts doubt that figure is accurate.
  • Goldsborough, 36,000ha carrying about 4000 breeders, adjacent to Lolworth.

The auction of Chudleigh is probably the largest in North Queensland since Wrotham Park and Chudleigh were both offered at auction by receivers for Great Southern Plantations in 2009, northern property analysts suggest. Few large holdings have been put to the market since, and especially following the Indonesian live export market closure in June 2011.

Elders Charters Towers rural property marketing veteran Lorin Bishop, who is handling the sales, said the arrival of recent rain across parts of the region had been coincidental, and was not a catalyst in this case for the vendor’s decision to sell.

“The rain in the last few days has been some of the best rain the area has had all year, and if nothing else, it’s likely to help stimulate additional interest,” he said.

Chudleigh itself has not received massive rain from the recent low, but the broader influence has helped shift confidence towards the right end of the scale.

Vendor, Peter Camm, has bought and sold a string of notable grazing properties across North Queensland, the NT and northern WA over the past 15 years. He apparently plans to consolidate his operations back to his Central Queensland assets bought last year.

Of the three, most of the attention will focus on the offering of Chudleigh, because of its sheer scale. The 182,000ha block includes about 40,000ha of good basalt country, plus large areas of well-improved tableland country. Total cattle numbers up to 30,000 head have been run on the property at different times.

Because Chudleigh Park has had a sequence of owners, it provides a useful snapshot of changing industry conditions and land values in northern Australia over the past 20 years. Here’s a brief snapshot of its transaction history:

  • May 1993: Coutts Brothers/Queensland Stations, in receivership, sold Chudleigh to George Ishiyama’s Shipfield Pastoral Co for $4.35 million, with 10,000 cattle. Shipfield bought Chudleigh for grass, having experienced a bad drought at its main breeding depot, Wondovale, further north.  
  • June 1994: With a return to better seasonal conditions, Shipfield put Chudleigh back on the market the following year, selling it to Vern Gibson and family, who paid $3.95m with 10,000 cattle.
  • April 2006: Vern Gibson, since deceased, and his son and daughter in law Steve and Inga Gibson, did a lot of development work on the property, especially in putting in more waters on the red tableland country to dramatically lift grazing capacity. They sold Chudleigh 12 years later, to Great Southern Plantations, for $26 million, with 18,000 cattle. Readers are warned to be cautious about how they interpret prices paid by Managed Investment Schemes, however, as there were numerous examples where they paid well over the odds for northern Australian grazing land.    
  • June 2009: Great Southern Plantations (Cattle Holdings) MIS, wracked by mismanagement, collapsed spectacularly three years later, and Chudleigh was again put on the market by receivers. It was bought by Peter Camm for $28 million, this time including about 22,000 cattle. It was regarded as a huge sale at the time, with the broader northern property market going into downwards trajectory by that stage. What drove the result was a ding-dong auction battle between a cashed-up Peter Camm and Consolidated Pastoral Co’s backer, Terra Firma. Mr Camm had not long sold La Belle Downs in the NT for the unheard-of price of $72 million to RM Williams Agricultural Holdings, another pastoral investment vehicle which also failed spectacularly last year. His winning bid on Chudleigh – sufficient to silence the Terra Firma challenge – was a $2m jump from $26 to $28m. To put the earlier La Belle sale into some context, it was sold by RMWAH’s receivers last October for just $27m (this time bare of stock) to AA Co, including a second smaller property, Welltree.

So what does it value Chudleigh at this time around, given the rising fortunes of the northern live export industry over the past six months, and signs of a last-gasp break to the northern wet season?

A solid source who knows the region and the country well suggests it might make around $22 million this time. One suggestion is that it does not quite make the size threshold likely to attract real corporate or overseas interest, suggesting buying impetus is more likely to come from substantial privateers. Having said that, apparently there was Chinese interest in the property earlier, which came to nothing.

The companion properties in the Camm portfolio, Goldsborough and Lolworth, are adjacent to each other, about 100km north of Pentland. They are more in line with large family cattle operations seeking expansion, or a family enterprise from further south seeking to relocate further north to run more numbers.

Date claimers:

  • The Chudleigh Park/Lolworth/Goldsborough auction, through Elders, is set down for Brisbane’s Tattersalls Club on May 14. More details closer to auction time.
  • Tender on Niall Station close with Colliers on March 26.   




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