Property

Twiggy Forrest secures Pilbara’s Chinese-owned Balfour Downs

Beef Central, 14/02/2022

Red Brahman x Droughtmaster cattle on Balfour Downs

 

WESTERN Australian mining billionaire and grazier Twiggy Forrest has bought Balfour Downs in the state’s Pilbara region from its Chinese owners.

The sale continues a strong recent sequence of former foreign owned northern grazing properties returning to Australian hands.

Mr Forrest’s Harvest Road beef supply chain arm has reached an agreement to acquire the 634,000ha property, comprising three separate pastoral leases in the east Pilbara region 175km from Newman and 1300km northeast of Perth.

The sale includes about 12,000 head of cattle, predominantly Red Brahman cattle with some Droughtmaster influence. No price was disclosed.

Balfour has been owned and operated for the past six years by wealthy Chinese businessman Xingfa Ma’s TBG Agri, the Australian arm of his Tianma Bearing Group, which originally bought the property December 2014 for $18 million, including 40,000 head of cattle. At the time, Balfour had been developed into one of the state’s top cattle properties by veteran pastoralist Don Hoar. TBG Agri has since made large capital investments in infrastructure improvement.

TBG announced its intention to sell Balfour in March last year. Expectations at the time suggested the property might make between $32 and $40 million, but the northern property market has trended sharply higher since then.

Balfour features modern infrastructure including a newly built homestead, staff quarters, sheds and 3000 head capacity steel cattle yards.

Harvest Road is the Forrest’s beef division, which includes the Harvey Beef brand, is WA’s largest beef processor and owns a state-of-the-art processing facility near Harvey, a large paddock based intensive feeding facility, and a portfolio of northern grazing properties.

The sale represents only the fourth time the property has changed hands in the past 100 years. It is the birthplace of famed Australian writer Doris Pilkington, author of Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence.

In a statement, chief investment officer for the Forrests’ Tattarang investment arm, John Hartman said Balfour would form an important part of Harvest Road’s integrated beef supply chain business and strong commitment to highest possible environmental stewardship and animal welfare standards.

“For more than a century, Balfour Downs been an important part of the development of Australia’s cattle industry. We are committed preserving this legacy and investing in its future to further enhance the property’s status as some of the most productive pastoral lands in northern WA,” Mr Hartman said.

Balfour Downs carries extensive water infrastructure to support its large-scale cattle breeding and finishing operations, with 92 equipped watering points, including 35 ring dams, 48 fully equipped bores and numerous permanent and semi-permanent pools along the river and creek systems.

Harvest Road’s chief operating officer for pastoral, backgrounding and feeding facilities, Ben Dwyer paid tribute to Balfour Downs’ previous owners and their record of investment in key infrastructure, including the development of impressive cattle and livestock facilities.

Managing Director of TBG Agribusiness Andrew Blythe

“The acquisition of Balfour Downs is part of our long-term investment into the future of WA’s beef industry and our commitment to developing a world-class network of integrated supply chain assets across the State,” Mr Dwyer said.

Managing Director of TBG Agribusiness Andrew Blythe said he was pleased to see the legacy of Balfour Downs continued by the Forrest family.

“Over the past six years, TBG Group has proudly operated Balfour Downs, investing in its future and reinforcing its status as one of northern Australia’s most respected breeding stations.”

The planned transaction by Harvest Road is subject to approval by the Western Australian Government.

Balfour has been owned and operated for the past six years by wealthy Chinese businessman Xingfa Ma’s TBG Agri, the Australian arm of his Tianma Bearing Group, which originally bought the property December 2014 for $18 million, including 40,000 head of cattle. It has since made large capital investments in infrastructure.

TBG announced its intention to sell Balfour in March last year. Expectations at the time suggested the property might make between $32 and $40 million, but the northern property market has trended sharply higher since then. The original offering included 16,000 cattle.

Further sales

Two years ago, Balfour vendor Jack Ma sold his 705,700ha Wollogorang and Wentworth Stations, which straddle the Queensland/Northern Territory border, for $53 million (WIWO including 30,000 head of Brahman cattle and comprehensive station plant).

He had held the large-scale Gulf of Carpentaria district grazing properties for just under four years.

Mr Ma acquired Wentworth and the Balfour breeding operations in a bid to supply beef to China, including live exports and processing in WA, after earlier setting up a supply and distribution network for quality local wines.

TBG Agribusiness manager director Andrew Blythe said Mr Ma had intended to grow a paddock-to-plate cattle business, similar to his Ferngrove WA wine business.

“Unfortunately, it was difficult to own the whole value chain and as a result, the breeder part of the cattle business is being divested,” he said.

“TBG will now refocus on the businesses where it can add value. However, the love affair with Australian agriculture is far from over.”

The company’s 8000ha Emu Downs Station, further south near Cervantes, which is used to finish cattle from the Balfour breeding operation, will be Mr Ma’s only remaining livestock asset.

However Mr Blythe ruled out selling Emu Downs at the time of Balfour’s sale announcement last year.

“Absolutely not. It is an asset and the centrepiece of TBG’s agricultural business. There are future plans for Emu Downs,” he said.

While Mr Blythe would not be drawn into details, the proceeds of the Balfour sale could be further invested into finishing cattle on Emu Downs and sending boxed meat into China.

The Balfour Downs holding, about one-tenth the size of Tasmania, includes extensive river, watercourse and channel country, opening onto large flood-out plains grassed with Mitchell, Flinders, and buffel grass.

Located in one of WA’s richest mining regions, the grazing country is rich in minerals and there is no need for supplementary feeding, as the country enjoys a high plane of nutrition giving stock high fertility and weight gains.

Mr Blythe said since acquiring the property, TBG has invested heavily in additional water infrastructure and resources, taking former owner Don Hoar’s improvements to another level.

 

 

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. Peter Dunn, 14/02/2022

    A further ‘clearing of the decks’ by Chinese owners, and while many frequently disagree with Twiggy’s activities and behaviour, he has stepped up on this occasion and he deserves recognition for having done so.
    As for the Chinese divestment, the signal is loud and clear. Not too far down the road there is going to be pain for some exporters and importers, so now is the time to stay strongly behind those who call out economic coercion.

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