In its second swoop on prime northern NSW cattle country this year, Chinese-owned pastoral business, Rifa Salutary, has snapped up another two aggregations for an estimated $55 million.
Beefed up Rifa has acquired what were previously 11 properties in the Nundle district – just over the range from its prized 23,400-hectare Gloucester-Nowendoc district “Cooplacurripa” aggregation bought in April for about $32m.
The Nowendoc properties, and an $18m Warialda aggregation covering 4000ha also acquired early this year, will form part of a beef cattle breeding and growing operation with the newest acquisitions, “Kooroon” and “Middlebrook Park” south of Tamworth.
The 8000ha neighbouring Nundle district holdings were officially merged under one name “Middlebrook” after the purchase was wrapped up early this week.
Rifa bought on a walk-in, walk-out basis, including 8100 Angus and Shorthorn cattle worth $8m, plus plant and equipment worth $2m, and 764 megalitres of water licenses.
Contracts were exchanged on all properties simultaneously on May 13 and Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) approval granted in June.
Rifa Salutary managing director, David Goodfellow, said exact details of each purchase were confidential, but his expanding pastoral venture had been “happy to meet the market to secure some outstanding landholdings”.
“These properties give us the scale we want for our business”, he said.
“We continue to find value in aggregating small farms to create large holdings with the scale and efficiency we desire.”
The 8000-hectare holding had consisted of aggregations of four and seven properties ranging in size from 400ha to 1240ha brought together as two respective units during the past 16 years.
The company now has 40,000ha of country in NSW and Victoria, having spent about $150m on agricultural properties and related investments in the past two years, including fencing, stock watering systems and livestock handling facilities.
At Nundle, after some major re-fencing, water infrastructure upgrades and pasture improvement work, Rifa’s newest aggregation will become primarily a large-scale Angus cattle breeding operation initially comprising about 5500 breeders.
Steer calves will be grown out after weaning on the newly acquired backgrounding property “Ashleigh” for sale mainly to northern NSW feedlots, while heifers will be retained as replacements at “Middlebrook” or transferred to the “Cooplacurripa” breeding herd.
Rifa Salutary, which also owns “Blackwood” in western Victoria, now boasts a total beef herd of 22,000, plus 5000 sheep and 3000ha of cropping country.
The company is part of the diversified industrial machinery business, Zhejiang Rifa Holding Group, and is still looking at further potential purchases in Victoria and NSW.
Mr Goodfellow believed it worthwhile paying slight premiums to families choosing to retire from farming, especially if they could work with neighbours to enable Rifa to “aggregate small properties into operations that meet our criteria”.
While acknowledging considerable uncertainty about the role of foreign investors in the farm sector, he believed it was required as a critical component in Australia’s development.
“It is critical we don’t get left behind in the global agricultural boom, which is happening right now,” Mr Goodfellow said.
“We need capital in Australia to improve our land, develop new technologies and improve our regional infrastructure.
“Some capital will be created by existing farmers, some may come from Australian investment funds, some must come from state and federal governments, but the rest must come from overseas.”
Given the sector’s need for more investment capital was serious, Mr Goodfellow said it was important pastoral companies like Rifa and industry leaders help people understand the benefit of outside investment in the industry.
Investment also had to be deployed responsibly and managed by experienced teams, and where possible, “requirements procured locally so we support local businesses”.