Crop downsizing for Chinese group

Rueben HaleThe West Australian
Night harvesting at Connemara farm in 2013.
Camera IconNight harvesting at Connemara farm in 2013. Credit: WA News

One of China’s state-owned conglomerates, once touted to become WA’s biggest grain grower, has sown its smallest crop yet.

The once-grand Chinese WA farmland vision seems to have hit trouble, with the majority of its 85,000ha of WA farmland purchased or leased in a $200 million spending spree five years ago now rumoured to be leased out, with about 10,000ha of cropping area remaining at the company’s Connemara property near Lake King.

The Beidahuang Group, through its Australian-registered business arm Heilongjiang Feng Agricultural and farm operator Vicstock Grain, is believed to have planted about a 6000ha crop, considered to be mostly canola, this year, which is less than a tenth of the 65,000ha cropping bonanza in the company’s first year of operation in 2013.

Back then, the company was defying critics after sowing a reportedly massive crop and running 10,000 sheep on Connemara and two leased properties near Albany port, with the intention to bypass CBH’s bulk handling facilities and export cereal grains directly to China.

When Countryman visited the farm in the summer of that year, the company was harvesting non-stop, 24 hours a day, covering up to 800ha a day, using four New Holland CR9090 headers and a 19-strong on-farm workforce.

The company had ploughed $200 million into buying the farmland, high-tech farm machinery and large-capacity on-farm storage, with plans to export the grain building up on its farms, with work yet to start on an initial $10 million upgrade of the Albany storage and shiploading facilities leased by Vicstock Grain.

It spent $3 million on road trains and millions more on precision seeders, chaser bins and on-farm storage, which included scores of silo bags, each able to contain up to 250 tonnes of grain.

A former worker at the Lake King farm has told Countryman the first two years were productive, but as time went on internal politics and difficulty obtaining funds for chemicals, fuel and feed made it more difficult each year to operate.

“In 2015 around 22,000ha was sown and lots of sheep were being sold,” he said.

“Last year it was about 20,000ha, and this year I would estimate it at a being only about 6000ha on Connemara.

“I always found it hard to get things done when they needed to be done because of the way the business was structured.”

This year, former Mukinbudin farmer John Inferrera has taken over management of the farm.

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