QIC confirms purchase of Roma’s Stuart’s Creek for Nature Capital Fund

Jon Condon, 01/08/2023

Hereford cattle on Stuart’s Creek

QUEENSLAND government backed investment fund, QIC has confirmed its purchase of Roma district grazing property Stuart’s Creek – the last remaining asset held by regenerative ag-focussed Packhorse Pastoral Co.

The sale effectively brings to a close the operations of Packhorse Pastoral, put together by Queensland investor Tom Strachan, who died tragically in an aircraft accident in August last year.

No price was disclosed, but as a guide Packhorse paid $30 million for 8400ha Stuart’s Creek in July 2021, including 800 breeders valued at around $3 million.

Packhorse’s three key assets – Moolan Downs southeast of Roma, Ottley Station west of Inverell in northern NSW and Stuart’s Creek, were put to market in December, following Mr Strachan’s passing.

Stuart’s Creek was the last remaining asset, following the purchase in May by Gina Rinehart’s Hancock Agriculture of the 10,000ha Moolan Downs aggregation and 8370ha Ottley Station. No price was disclosed on those deals, but it is understood they made a combined figure around $80 million, bare of stock.

Hancock is understood to have negotiated also for 8344ha Stuart’s Creek, northwest of Roma – but agreement could not be reached on a price.

In this report on Beef Central published in May, we reported that a deal on Stuart’s Creek with another party, understood to be a large Australian institutional investor was close to being finalised.

Fingers at the time pointed to QIC’s North Australian Pastoral Co, which owns Goldsborough, adjoining Stuart’s Creek. However NAPCo chief executive Allan Cooney told Beef Central at the time that while NAPCo did carry out an inspection, it did not have a contract, nor an interest in Stuart’s Creek.

It turned out that QIC’s interest in Stuart’s Creek was not as an addition to NAPCo’s property portfolio, but as an asset to add to its separate Natural Capital investment platform.

Established as a standalone asset class in 2022, QIC Natural Capital provides a commercial platform that aims to promote environmental outcomes of carbon sequestration, biodiversity conservation and reef water quality, alongside attractive agriculture returns.

“Our investment approach seeks to enable institutional investors to benefit from long-term trends of addressing challenges of population growth, food security, biodiversity protection and climate change,” the QIC Natural Capital website says.

QIC was clearly familiar with the country and local performance around Goldsborough/Stuart’s Creek, through its NAPCo connection.

Stuart’s Creek was sold as a beef grazing operation with registered carbon baselines and sequestration strategies in place, and QIC said it intended to continue to run the property along similar lines as Packhorse did.

Packhorse had registered 20,000ha of land with the Clean Energy Regulator that is primed for carbon sequestration.

The majority of the country on Stuart’s Creek is heavy buffel grass pasture in the lighter open box forest soils on the northern end of the property, running into stronger brigalow belah and bottle tree type soils further south. Carrying capacity is rated at 3000 adult equivalents.

In a statement, QIC head of Natural Capital Tom Murphy said the acquisition allowed QIC to build on its existing agricultural and natural capital investments and expertise.

Stuart’s Creek is the second acquisition under the QIC Natural Capital platform following the purchase of a 600ha irrigated sugar cane property south of the Mackay region last year.

Both acquisitions were made possible through a foundational investment from the Queensland Government’s Land Restoration Fund.

“Packhorse is a recognised leader in carbon farming and that legacy is not lost on any of us,” Mr Murphy said.

“In Stuart’s Creek, we acquire a solid foundation to explore environmental market opportunities that are complementary to the existing traditional cattle grazing operations,” he said.

“This is prime agricultural land that also has significant areas registered for sequestration, offering the best of both worlds in cattle and carbon. We welcome the opportunity to continue collaborations with academic, environmental and industry groups to support new and existing biodiversity projects on site,” Mr Murphy said.

There was a genuine alignment of the Packhorse vision and QIC’s Natural Capital platform, giving the company great confidence in carrying on this important work to deliver positive commercial and environmental outcomes, he said.

Packhorse managing director Geoff Murrell said the sale was a true alignment of outcomes and solutions for the environment and investors.

“The sale has delivered strong shareholder returns and the compatibility of a new land steward to continue building on the solid regenerative agricultural practices Packhorse had underway,” Mr Murrell said.

“We are fortunate to have collaborated with some notable partners and industry experts to establish a foundation for biodiversity above and below the ground.”

“Packhorse had the vision and laid the groundwork, and QIC Natural Capital is continuing down that path.

Given NAPCo’s footprint next to Stuart’s Creek, Beef Central asked QIC whether NAPCo would have some involvement with Stuart’s Creek, either as a lessee, an agistor, or a contract manager.

QIC said the property would instead be operated and managed by the QIC Natural Capital team – not NAPCo.

“There are currently no plans or arrangements for NAPCo to have any involvement in the property. Stuart’s Creeks’ existing agistment agreements (with other interests) will remain the same, the carbon projects will remain the same,” he said.

Beef Central understands a junior manager has transferred across from Packhorse to QIC Natural Capital following the deal, but managing director Geoff Murrell is not part of the process. Packhorse said it was unable to comment further before its annual general meeting in September.

About QIC:

QIC is an institutional investment manager and adviser providing risk adjusted returns for the clients it serves. The company delivers alternative real asset solutions across infrastructure, real estate, private debt, private capital, natural capital in addition to a liquid market offering for its 125 Australian and global clients. QIC also acts as the Queensland Government’s independent investment advisor, managing a fully-funded Defined Benefit scheme and the Queensland Future Fund, both of which deliver on the State’s long-term investment objectives. As at 30 June, it had A$102.2 billion in assets under management.





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  1. Val Dyer, 01/08/2023

    Is there a personal relationship between the seller and the government funded buyer?

    Strange transactions are happening in the extensive rangelands of Australia.

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