Prime beef powerhouse

Prime beef powerhouse

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One of Australia’s biggest and most intensive cattle finishing operations is in play following the formal public listing last month of historic Gunyerwarildi Station in northern NSW.

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One of Australia’s biggest and most intensive cattle finishing operations is in play following the formal public listing last month of historic Gunyerwarildi Station in northern NSW.

Gunyerwarildi is owned by Ceres Agriculture, a company which formed in 2012 with the merging of assets of Pegela Pastoral Company and Singapore-based Duxton Asset Management.

Pegela, established in 2003 by former stockbroker Garrick Hawkins and managed by Mark Mason, owns a string of properties from Oberon to Moree and Warialda.

Having achieved its development objectives, Ceres is now looking to offload its northern NSW properties.

Last year Ceres commenced an off-market program of sounding out potential buyers.

Properties at Moree are already understood to be under offer.

Now the jewel in Ceres’ northern ‘crown’, Gunyerwarildi Station, has been listed for sale by expressions of interest with CBRE.

Given the expected $100-million value of the sale parcel (bare basis), there has been some very strong interest from both offshore and local institutional investors.

On offer is a semi-contiguous aggregation of five properties – Gunyerwarildi, Brentwood, Inverness, Kurrajong Hills and Lara Downs – comprising in total 16,909 hectares (41,765ac).

Situated about 28 kilometres north of Warialda, they sit within the renowned ‘golden triangle’ of favoured North West Slopes cropland with an average rainfall is 690mm.

Together, they have the proven ability to produce annually more than 20,000 tonnes of grain and to finish 100,000 head of cattle to Meat Standards Australia standard.

Cattle are bought in at starting weights of 300-420 kilograms, and following a 20-day induction in a feedlot, they are depastured in 40ha paddocks with an ad-lib grain supplement for a further 90 days.

Key to the success of the operation is the so-called Grain Assist feeding program.

This program is where grain (mostly barley) is treated in an on-farm steam flaking mill – the only one in Australia – to reduce it to readily-digestible flakes.

Supply agreements are in place with leading processors including Woolworths, Bindaree, Manildra and JBS, and finished cattle are delivered by the company’s own trucking fleet.

It’s all a far cry from the Gunyerwarildi that brothers John, Donald and Ronald Mackay took over in 1891 – then a 100,000-acre sprawl which by 1897 was carrying 37,000 sheep and 700 head of cattle.

The Mackay family would cling to Gunyerwarildi, notwithstanding successive resumptions and subdivisions, for nearly a century, before selling the then 8150ha station to Twynam Pastoral in 1977. 

Twynam ramped up the cattle fattening and cropping enterprises on Gunyerwarildi before selling in 1996 to businessman John O’Rourke.

Garrick Hawkins bought the property from him in 2003.

Since then the property, with its subsequent annexations, has been developed to a high pitch of productive efficiency.

The mostly gently undulating country is a productive (and 60 per cent arable) mix of alluvial, chocolate, red loam and lighter sandy soils.

It is contoured with farm-over banks and intersected by timbered ridges.

Infrastructure includes a 7000-head feedlot of 51 pens (with approval to expand).

There is also a silo battery of 5500 tonnes, the steam flaking mill, six sets of cattle yards plus numerous sheds, workshops and housing.

By PETER AUSTIN.

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