Middle East player buys more

Kate MatthewsCountryman
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WA's agricultural landscape will see a new player this year from the Middle East, while a major Chinese buyer contracted to purchase at least four farms has defaulted on payments.

All set to go is Hassad Australia, the first overseas investment of the Hassad Food Company, a unit of the Qatar Investment Authority.

Last month, Hassad Australia purchased 27,000 hectares in WA for grain production.

It has been buying Australian farms since February 2010.

The three WA farms include 14,672ha at Jerramungup, called Amarinya, 8483ha at Bindi Bindi, known as Bindana Downs, and 8340ha in Beaumont, called Yupiri.

Managers are already in place at two of the locations, one of whom is the former owner, and will head up the operations to produce a mix of wheat, barley and canola.

The latest acquisitions bring the total number of properties owned and run by Hassad Australia to 10, with a portfolio of 250,000ha for sheep and grain enterprises.

Information provided by the company said it sells back into the domestic market, but in the future, it will look at selling into the most profitable export markets.

As a registered company, Hassad Australia is bound by Australian legislation, but it will need to pay a return on the investment to the Qatar Government. While WA was selected to add geographic diversity, the company stated it chose Australia because "it had a well structured agricultural sector, with the logistics and infrastructure in place to support it".

Part of the business plan also includes "buying local", using the experience of Australian farm managers and operators and using the best technology available.

One of China's largest agricultural companies - Beidahuang Group (BDH) - was scouting WA last year on a mission to purchase 80,000ha.

In March, a BDH subsidiary, Heilongjiang Agriculture Co, was due to purchase Connemara Holdings' 16,000ha home farm, owned by the Joyce family, for $27 million.

Ryan Joyce said no deposit was made and BDH had missed several handover dates.

The next deadline is May 7.

He believes the buyers may have been spooked by the receivership.

But it could also affect three other family farms, believed to be signed to sell to BDH - a neighbouring farm in Newdegate and properties in Ongerup and Dudinin.

Although Mr Joyce said he never met the Chinese buyers, his father Dennis had been in discussions with them since early 2011.

Whether BDH meets the payment deadlines remains to be seen, but it's known as one of China's most modern agricultural groups.

Its 16 subsidiaries include Beidahuang Grains Co, Harbin Longken Malt Co and Beidahuang Papermaking Co and a fertiliser company.

According to news service Marketwire, BDH controls arable land over 110 farms, across 5.5 million hectares.

It has 410,000 beef cattle, more than 267,000 dairy cows, about 1.3 million breeding sows, more than two million goats and 6.3 million poultry.

Marketwire states that BDH controls 54 airports, 30 agricultural aircraft, 198 grain processing centres, 59 seed processing facilities and more than 24,000 tractors with the annual grain production capacity reaching 18.2 billion kilograms.

_Countryman _ was unable to contact BDH.

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