Last year a company called Consolidated Australian Pastoral Holdings spent around $100 million buying four cattle stations spanning 1 million hectares in the Kimberley region of far-north Western Australia.
The deal, understood to be the biggest pastoral land sale in WA's history, was settled in November, but very little has been known about the company and its plans, until now.
The Chinese connection
Consolidated Australian Pastoral Holdings (CAPH) was established by Archstone Investments, to specifically undertake the acquisition of the Kimberley stations previously owned by the company SAWA.
Archstone is a Beijing-based investment group with interests in China, Hong Kong and Australia, and its portfolio spans many sectors including food, agriculture, medical and technology.
The company recently acquired a 51 per cent stake in the Bindaree Beef Group in New South Wales for a reported $120 million (more on that later).
CAPH director Dale Champion said there were many factors that attracted Archstone to the SAWA aggregation.
"The properties themselves have enormous value in terms of quality, especially Moola Bulla," he told ABC Rural.
"There is also the highly regarded herd [of around 47,000 cattle] and the significant opportunity that existed to further develop these properties.
"Another drawcard was the property Shamrock Station which sits outside of the Bluetongue Zone, which provides flexibility for exporting cattle to certain jurisdictions around the world, most noticeably China, which we do see as a market that will open up in years to come."
'Significant' irrigation plans for Shamrock Station
Located about 150 kilometres south of Broome with access to the La Grange aquifer, Mr Champion confirmed the group was moving forward with "significant" plans to create an irrigation precinct at Shamrock Station.
Using centre pivots, he said the group was aiming to develop a "stand and graze" operation, but would not disclose how large the development would be.
"It's a considerable investment that we're taking very seriously," he said.
"We see Shamrock as a step that will add value not only to our aggregation of stations, but potentially offer opportunity to the region because of its location outside of the Bluetongue Zone.
"If we can lift the weight and therefore the value of every head produced in our aggregation, then for us that's a better return on investment and Shamrock would be integral to adding that finish and scale to the volumes we're talking about."
Mr Champion said the group would like to start developing Shamrock as soon as possible and was progressing well with various government assessments and surveys.
The Bindaree Beef link
Earlier this month it was announced that Archstone Investments had bought a 51 per cent share in one of Australia's largest meat processors, the Bindaree Beef Group.
Mr Champion said there was no strategic link between the two major investments on either side of the continent.
"We see the eastern states as primarily focused on boxed beef, with the Kimberley more aligned to live export," he said.
"But at the end of the day, both offer opportunities from Archstone's perspective to continue to invest in the industry; they are both long-term investments and there's a view to develop both projects."
Confidence that beef has a big future
When asked if the company was looking to buy more stations in northern Australia, Mr Champion said the group would "consider suitable opportunities as they arise, but they need to make sense both strategically and commercially".
In a brief statement to ABC Rural, Archstone's David Xie said: "Archstone feels that the Australian beef industry as a whole affords long-term opportunities and our ongoing investments reflect this view".
"In regards to the Kimberley region, we believe it provides an excellent opportunity for development and have been pleased to be able to work with numerous local service providers and suppliers as we progress these aspirations," he said.
At a glance: Who are the main players in the purchase?
- Archstone Investments: Investment group based in Beijing. One of its primary supporters includes the Hui family and their related Shimao Group companies in China and Hong Kong. Archstone also recently purchased a 51 per cent stake in Bindaree Beef, NSW.
- Consolidated Australian Pastoral Holdings: Entity established by Archstone as an investment vehicle to specifically undertake the acquisition of the SAWA aggregation of four Kimberley cattle stations in 2016 — Moola Bulla, Mt Amhurst, Beefwood Park and Shamrock Station.
- Agrify: Advisory group based in Adelaide responsible for putting the transaction together with Archstone last year.
- Australian Standard Agriculture: Responsible for continuing strategic leadership, development and management of the aggregation on an ongoing basis.
- Argyle Cattle Company: Operating entity for Archstone's Kimberley aggregation of properties.