IN OUR second last weekly property review for 2019, we present a state-by-state snapshot of the defining property sales across Australia, as reported over the past 12 months.
This is not a definitive list, as other significant properties have sold in off-market deals. It is however interesting to look back over the past year at the prices and size of the more significant grazing properties that have changed hands.
In terms of price, the two largest transactions this year occurred in the Northern Territory.
In January, the 285,270ha northern Victoria River district property Legune Station was purchased by the Brisbane-based AAM Investment Group for $62 million walk-in walk-out, including 27,000 Brahman cattle. AAMIG is sub-leasing part of the property to the Seafarms Group which is developing a 10,000ha prawn farm, known as Project Sea Dragon.
In May, the Langenhoven family paid $58 million for the large-scale Barkly Tableland breeding property Kalala Station spanning 3760sq km. The family’s Top End cattle property portfolio includes the 80,900ha McMinn Station and the neighbouring 70,700ha Big River Station.
Another significant NT purchase was made in June, when 245,550ha Ucharonidge Station east of Newcastle Waters sold to Malcolm Harris’s Cleveland Agriculture on a walk-in, walk-out basis for around $30 million. The operation has been used to provide grower cattle to Nockatunga Station in Queensland’s Channel Country. Nockatunga was sold separately to Mr Harris’s Cleveland Agriculture in October 2018.
April, 23,000ha Comely Station (Bauhinia) – The highly regarded buffel grass finishing/growing aggregation comprising Comely and Mapala Stations sold to NT pastoral identity Sterling Buntine for almost $50 million bare, making the sale one of the largest in Queensland for a grazing property in the past 12 months.
July – 7012ha Exmoor Station (Bloomsbury, Whitsundays) – An Australian company with aquaculture interests paid $28 million WIWO for the blue-ribbon Queensland coastal cattle property which is extremely well watered and has subdivision potential.
November – 28,442ha Etta Plains (Julia Creek) – the large-scale breeding and finishing operation backing on to the Flinders River and boasting fertile, self-cracking clay soils and flat open grass lands, was purchased by Narrabri’s Robyn and Luke Findley for almost $25 million (land and water licences).
New South Wales
January – 33,000ha Juanbung and Boyong Stations (Southern Riverina) – Traditionally backgrounding up to 10,000 cattle a year, the properties boast 55km Murrumbidgee River frontage and a 13,506MI supplementary water entitlement. They incorporate the terminal floodplain delta of the Lachlan River, referred to as Great Cumbung Swamp, and feature one of the largest privately-owned River Red Gum Forests in the world. The aggregation sold to Nature Conservancy Australia, in a joint venture with Tiverton Agriculture, for $57 million.
August – 1771ha Aberfeldy (Holbrook) – one of southern Australia’s most notable rural holdings renowned for its productivity and versatility was purchased by iconic pastoral family TA Field Estates for around $24 million on a WIWO basis.
November – Mount Falcon Station (Upper Murray) – the large-scale beef powerhouse is renowned for its quality livestock, extensive pasture improvement, first-class stock facilities and management. It was purchased by an Australian family with local interests for close to $15 million (bare).
February – 6488ha Cobungra Station plus 24,512ha adjacent alpine grazing leases (Omeo, East Gippsland) – One of Victoria’s largest cattle stations operating as a pure-bred and hybrid beef breeding enterprise, numbering more than 4000 cows plus replacements. The rural property trust, Rural Funds Group, paid $35 million WIWO.
November – 2405ha Blackwood Station – (Victoria’s Western District) – the large-scale livestock breeding and finishing and cropping enterprise was purchased by the Dunkeld Pastoral Co (owned by prominent Melbourne barrister Allan Myers) for around $30 million. It was offered with 1800 Angus breeders.
August – 930ha Bembaala Farms (Victoria’s Goulburn Valley) – the $20m dairy enterprise has been converted to a beef production and backgrounding operation by the new owner, Australian fruit and vegetable king Robert Costa. However, it is understood he plans to purchase 28 dairy farms in the area and convert them to high yielding almond orchards.
February – 7821ha Cygnet Park Farms (Kangaroo Island) – comprising nine individual properties spread over four key locations, the aggregation was purchased by agricultural fund manager Growth Farms for around $25m – well below its anticipated $50m price tag.
June – the historic 2367ha Kadlunga (Mintaro, 130km north of Adelaide) was sold to George and Sophie Millington who own and operate the award-winning Collinsville Stud for $22m WIWO including 4900 Merinos, more than 100 Charolais cattle and 60ha of vineyards.
January – 72,000ha Argyle Downs (East Kimberley) – Turning off 10,000 head annually to the live export market, it was purchased together with the NT’s Newry and Auvergne Stations for around $135m by Vietnam-based investment group Clean Agriculture & International Tourism.
September – 671,277ha Balladonia Aggregation (Goldfields–Esperance pastoral region) was one of only a handful of large pastoral stations offered for sale in Western Australia in 2019. Boasting some of the best available pastoral grazing country in WA, it is rated to run more than 44,000 DSE or 6300 cattle units. The property was placed under contract, but the sales process has come to a standstill due to the dry seasonal conditions.
Most active buyers
Interestingly, the magic number for big property sales appears to be three, with the following being examples of the collective sales.
As mentioned above, Vietnam’s Clean Agriculture & International Tourism purchased a trio of northern Australian cattle properties from Consolidated Pastoral Co including 52,000 head of branded cattle, plant and equipment. Covering around 740,000ha, the portfolio includes:
- 414,200ha Auvergne Stationwhich breeds cattle predominantly for the northern live export market. Weaner steers and surplus heifers are trucked to Argyle Downs for growing out for live export. Comprising a balance of forest country, open black soils, coastal flood plain and red loam river country, Auvergne carries native Flinders and Mitchell grasses, capable of running 31,000 cattle in a typical season, turning off 30,000 head a year.
- Breeding block Newrycovers some 246,700ha and can typically carry about 21,000 head on its black soil, forest and stony ridge country. Weaner steers and surplus heifers are trucked to Argyle Downs for growing out
- 72,000ha Argyle Downs, 120km south east of Kununurra near the WA/NT border, carries a mix of black soil plains and red basalt country. The Ord River Dam is on its western boundary. Argyle’s Flinders and Mitchell grass pastures finish steers for live export out of Wyndham.
Northern Territory pastoral identity Sterling Buntine spent $77.8m on securing 177,590 hectares of land in three Queensland deals.
- 23,000ha Comely Station – the highly regarded Central Queensland buffel grass finishing/growing property at Bauhinia was purchased for $50m bare, making it one of the largest prices paid in Queensland for a grazing property in the past 12 months.
- 79,970ha Mimong Station – Kynuna in north west Queensland has a carrying capacity of 9000 cattle. The $20m sale included land and plant and equipment, but no stock.
- 74,620ha Tulmur, Tranby and Owens Creek – the breeding, backgrounding and fattening aggregation at Winton was purchased for $7.8m bare. Together, the three properties can carry 3000 breeders plus followers.
Mr Buntine’s other holdings include the 4232sq km Alroy Downs and 4776sq km Dalmore Downs on the NT’s Barkly Tablelands and the 730,000ha Lissadell, 2331sq km Bedford Downs and Lansdowne Stations in Western Australia’s Kimberley.
The Argentinian Buratovich family paid almost $44m for almost 550,00 hectares of cattle country near Katherine in the Northern Territory, including:
- 67,840ha Sturt Downs (including 1000 head of cattle, plant and equipment) was purchased for $6.8m
- the neighbouring 379,000ha Manbullo Station was purchased for around $25m in a sale and leaseback deal
- the adjoining 101,850ha Scott Creek, the former ‘trophy’ station once owned by the Sultan of Brunei, was secured for around $12m.
The family owns a successful commercial and agricultural company and is developing new commercial alternatives that allow us to continue expanding our horizons, such as the export of cereals, oilseeds, other derived products, and the importation of agricultural supplies.
What has been difficult to comprehend in the 2019 beef property space has been the prices paid for a small, but growing number of pastoral leases.
Some buyers have paid premiums reflecting perceived development potential for a higher land use (such as for commercial cropping development) or for picking up the neighbour’s block.
However, there have been a number of sales where the disproportionately high value rates could only be attributed to ambitious current productivity estimates – significantly overestimated carrying capacities.
In this earlier article on due diligence, HTW’s Darwin-based rural property valuer Frank Peacocke explained the sales don’t stack-up on a dollar per productive unit basis ($/Adult Equivalent) when compared to other sales and value expectations generally prevailing in the region.
“It comes down to an over-estimation of what these properties can sustainably carry over the long-term given their current development and current land condition. Either the purchaser has overestimated, or the vendor has overstated, the current carrying capacity,” he said.
“Some of the estimates of current carrying capacities associated with certain pastoral leases are more reflective of the capacity average after a run of well-above average seasons, compared to a long term average of 10 years which would also take into account the well-below average years (as is the case with the present big dry),” Mr Peacocke said.
A newcomer joined the rural transactional space in 2019 and in the space of seven months sold more than $50m worth of grazing country spanning almost a million hectares.
In February global property services firm Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) announced it was expanding its agribusiness services platform to include the asset class of rural property sales.
With the announcement came news that three leading rural specialists from CBRE’s agribusiness team had jumped ship and joined the rival firm.
With a combined 15 years’ experience in transacting rural property across Northern Australia, Brisbane-based Geoff Warriner and Chris Holgar sold Suplejack Station NT for $21m, Idracowra NT for $10.1m and Retreat QLD for $20m.
Leading Townsville-based valuer Peter Honnef was also recruited to join the JLL rural valuation team to specifically work with clients across Northern Australia.
In terms of regions, Central Queensland performed consistently in 2019, with 17 beef properties sold grossing $220m.
Apart from the previously mentioned Comely Station, other top sales in the region included:
- 7230ha Karamarra – $25-$30m – Located between Rockhampton and Emerald, the well-developed operation features a 7km frontage to the Mackenzie River and offers irrigation, dryland and grazing options.
- 3134ha Faust Family Farms $20.5m – The substantial sugar cane and beef production asset is the largest holding in the Proserpine region, in the heart of Queensland’s Whitsundays. Boasting high quality pastures, it can carry 500 breeders plus followers and has a sizeable 3119ML water rights portfolio.
- 142,600ha Retreat – $20m (inc 2000 cattle) – Located 50km from Jundah, the Channel Country beef and sheep enterprise boasts 40km Barcoo River frontage and can carry 7500AE.
- 3900ha Billabalong $19.3m ($5000/ha or $8000/AE) – Situated in the heart of arguably the best cattle country in Queensland, it set a price record for the tightly-held Arcadia Valley region.
A quick calculation of disclosed cattle property sales in 2019 reported by Beef Central shows:
- 17 properties sold in the sub $5m bracket
- 14 properties sold in a band from $5m-$10m
- 18 properties sold from $10m-$15m
- 22 properties achieved above $15m
This is a distinct turnaround from the previous two years which saw a higher number of cattle property sales transact in the sub $5m and $5m-$10m bracket – see below.
- 31 properties sold in the sub $5m bracket
- 17 properties sold in $5m-$10m
- 12 properties sold in $10m-$15m
- 14 properties achieved above $15m
- 40 properties sold in the sub $5m bracket
- 23 properties sold in $5m-$10m
- 10 properties sold in $10m-$15m
- 13 properties achieved above $15m
In our final weekly property review for 2019 next week, property industry experts will share their thoughts on the year that has been and what to expect over the coming 12 months.