AUSTRALIAN representatives for Middle Eastern company Hassad Foods are remaining tight-lipped on the mooted $45 million purchase of several large western Victorian properties.
The Bydand Pastoral Company (BPC) is currently seeking land on behalf of Hassad Foods, for Qatar, a country that has announced plans to invest $US500 million in real estate to supply the equivalent of 35-40 per cent of its annual sheepmeat and grain requirements.
In 2010, Hassad Foods said it was aiming to turn off 150,000 sheep within three years from its Australian operations.
BPC chief executive officer Steve Francis and chairman Mike Gordon both declined to comment on the mooted purchase of five properties across western Victoria, but Mr Gordon said BPC was working its way through the development of a production base for Hassad Foods.
“We’re working our way through that, the objectives haven’t changed.”
He said Bydand was positioning properties for Hassad Foods to have access to domestic and export markets, carcass and live, to minimise against seasonal fluctuations.
“As the right opportunities present themselves they will be considered on their merits.”
The five western Victorian properties expected to be sold to Hassad Foods include the 1310-hectare Watgania, the 1500-hectare Merrimbula, the 2826-hectare Barton Station near Willaura, the 1610-hecatre Brierly property and The Morass, a 1050-hectare block near Dunkeld.
Watgania was offered for $5.5 million late last year, but was not sold.
Barton Station sold in 2008 to NSW farmers Ian and Carmel Shippen for $11 million.
Asked by The Standard whether a deal had been struck with Hassad Foods, Mrs Shippen said: “It’s not the case at all.”
She declined to make any further comment.
Nick Adamson, from Charles Stewart Western Victoria, said that although his company was not involved, he had heard rumours of a large land sale in the past four to six weeks.
Mr Adamson said he had been fielding “a bit of overseas inquiry” for farming land, including interest in prime lamb and beef cattle grazing as well as a “little bit of dairy inquiry”.
“It hasn’t resulted in any sales though,” he said.
Hassad Foods, through BPC, paid about $25 million for the 2630-hectare Strathdownie property Kaladbro Estate last year.
It also bought the 125,300-hectare Clover Downs, south-east of Cunnamulla in Queensland, for $18.5 million.
Hassad has also bought more than $20 million worth of properties in central west New South Wales.
This included 6800 hectares in the Canowrindra district, including Jindara, bringing its Australian holdings up to an estimated 135,000 hectares.
Mr Gordon said he was not concerned about stepping on foreign investment sensitivities with large land purchases on behalf of Hassad Foods.
“No, we are not concerned about that -- there is a Foreign Investment Review Board process that is in place.”
He said the size of the Hassad operation was not large.
Mr Gordon said the positives that come out projects like Hassad’s included capital inflow, for property improvement and the creation of career paths.
Mr Gordon said Kaladbro was mostly being stocked with trade stock, while a breeding base was being built on northern properties.
“It is well positioned as a finishing-export point with its relation to Portland,” he said. No production from Kaladbro has yet been shipped back to Qatar, he said.
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