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The reality of our northern cattle industry belies popular rhetoric

By Brendan O'Reilly - posted Friday, 20 April 2018

In October 2013, Japfa Santori, an Indonesian feedlot company, controversially bought Victoria River stations, Riveren and Inverway for about $30 million in a depressed market.  The stations, cover 5500 square kilometres (over one and a quarter million acres) and included 40,000 head of Brahman cattle.  The sellers, the Underwood cattle family, had run into financial difficulties following the suspension of the live export trade to Indonesia in 2011 and (especially) the subsequent cutbacks in cattle import quotas by Indonesia.  Not long after the purchase, additional import quota to Indonesia was announced.  In April 2014  another Indonesian company, Agri International Pty Ltd, bought Willeroo Station, a 171,000 hectare Katherine district holding with 20,000 head of cattle.

Both Japfa Santori and Agri International have now sold out, possibly anticipating the slowdown in the live-export trade to Indonesia.  In July 2016 Japfa Santori made a tidy profit, selling Riveren and Inverway (reportedly for over $60 million) to Gina Rinehart’s Hancock Prospecting.  In April 2017 Willeroo was put on the market, and in October it was also sold to Hancock Prospecting for an undisclosed price.

Australia's largest privately owned cattle company has also been advertised for sale, with industry experts suggesting the company's broad portfolio of beef assets could be worth $1 billion.  The Consolidated Pastoral Company (CPC), owned by UK private equity firm Terra Firma, runs nearly 400,000 head of cattle across 16 stations, spanning 5.5 million hectares, and also operates two feedlots in Indonesia. James Packer had sold the CPC cattle station operations in 2009 for around $425 million.


So what can we conclude from all this?

Firstly it seems that our Northern cattle industry and the regional economy of the NT would suffer a catastrophe if the live export trade in cattle was ended.  Secondly, while investment in our Northern cattle industry by players such as the Chinese seems to be long term in nature, Indonesian investment may merely have been speculative. 

Some good may come from the difficulties in the live export market to Indonesia.  It is risky to be over-dependent on just one export market, and exporters are already diversifying to other markets, with Vietnam and China showing particular promise.

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About the Author

Brendan O’Reilly is a retired commonwealth public servant with a background in economics and accounting. He is currently pursuing private business interests.

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