Hassad buys up big in SA-Vic border region


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THE sale of 40,000 hectares of grazing land on the South Australian-Victorian border to Qatar-owned Hassad Australia has sparked mixed reaction.

THE sale of 40,000 hectares of grazing land on the South Australian-Victorian border to Qatar-owned Hassad Australia has sparked mixed reaction.

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Concern has been expressed about inflated land values and the impact on the local community, but Hassad Australia says it is providing long overdue investment in Australian agriculture.

The 10 properties - representing close to half of the Telopea Downs area - include Glen Alpine, Border Downs, Buckhurst, North Wattles and Eurkea, and Fergusons which stretches into SA, north east of Bordertown.

Stock Journal understands the sale price is in the $875 a hectare to $1250/ha range.

The purchase also included 30,000 sheep and a 1300 megalitre irrigation entitlement. The company's main focus will be sheep meat production with some cropping undertaken for pasture improvement.

It adds to Hassad's two other land aggregations in Victoria: 2600ha Kaladbro Station at Strathdownie and 8250ha Barton Station at Moyston.

Hassad Australia - a subsidiary of parent company Hassad Food Group - owns 250,000ha, stretching from Queensland to Western Australia, which has been bought in the past three years.

Victorian Farmers Federation president Peter Tuohey said he was greatly concerned about the potential impact of such as large land acquisition on the local community and neighbouring farmers.

"We don't believe in opposing foreign investment per se as it has been a part of Australia's history, but it is the unknown we are concerned about, and the lack of opportunity for local farmers to buy neighbouring land to expand," he said.

He renewed his calls for a national register for any foreign investment purchases above $5 million. The Foreign Investment Review Board only investigates purchases of more than $244m.

Hassad Australia chief executive officer Tom McKeon stressed that because the company had a single investor - the Qatar government - all investments made by the company were subject to approval by the Foreign Investment Review Board.

He also stressed that the company had a strong 'buy local' policy and employed local managers where possible.

"We have a policy to maintain existing employment where possible and then source other employees to be part of the local community," Mr McKeon said.

"At this stage, we will continue the employment of up to five people and hope to see a workforce there of up to 15."

Mr McKeon said local towns that had aggregations nearby had actually benefited from the purchase of inputs, including vehicles, and more families living in the area.

Barton Station's workforce had increased from one person to eight full-time staff through improved productivity.

"Investment in agriculture in Australia is sadly needed," Mr McKeon said.

"We have had the impact of prolonged droughts, water shortages, commodity prices in the doldrums and trade slipping away, and the government has reduced its investment in relation to research and development."

"The demographic of agriculture is quite old and the younger generation in Australia is drifting away from agriculture. We need investment like this to revitalise it."

He said the suggestion that Hassad Australia was not paying taxes on Australian production could be put down to the "fear mongering" of politicians.

* Full report in Stock Journal, May 10 issue.

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