AN INTERNATIONAL clothing manufacturer has emerged as the successful bidder for one of Australia’s largest irrigated farming operations, Gundaline, at Carrathool in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation area of southern New South Wales.
LAWD senior director Danny Thomas and director Elizabeth Doyle handled the expressions-of- interest process and after receiving strong interest from local and international buyers, have confirmed the purchase price is around $120 million.
While LAWD declined to comment any further on the buyer, sources have told Grain Central the buyer is a Chinese firm. The Shang Hai Stock Exchange has reported that Gundaline was purchased by the Zhejiang Sunrise Garment Group which owns the Hong Kong-based Smart Shirts Ltd.
“The Chinese have bought it; they manufacture garments…they like Australian cotton and they want to vertically integrate,” one source said.
Dutch investment firm Optifarm originally listed the property back in July 2020 but pulled it from the market soon after due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The property was sold by the Kahlbetzer family’s Twynam Group in 2014 for around $25M to investment fund Southern Agricultural Resources, which sold it to Optifarm in 2018 for a rumoured $75M.
Comprising approximately 14,916ha, Gundaline features 6000ha of first-class flood irrigation and secure access to surface and groundwater entitlements, as well as substantial water storages which total in excess of 17,000 megalitres.
“The location, property development, quality of infrastructure and water security makes Gundaline an A-Grade agricultural asset,” Mr Thomas said in a LAWD statement.
“Demand was fuelled further by favourable global economic conditions, including current high commodity prices, and with Australia’s exchange rate at sub USD0.70, our properties are very attractive to overseas buyers.”
Mr Thomas said the cotton operation on Gundaline will form part of the purchaser’s long-term strategy to provide full transparency and traceability from field to garment for its customers.
The property has undergone significant development since 2014, when Customised Farm Management took over management.
CFM managing director Andrew Parkes said the expansion of its cotton area had been matched by increased water-storage capacity.
“When we took over, Gundaline had circa 2800ha of flood irrigation in relatively small fields of around 60ha,” Mr Parkes said.
“Between 2014 and 2017, we developed around 3200ha on a much bigger scale – between 180 and 250ha per paddock – which has made operations much more efficient.
“Increased water-storage capacity means that both summer and winter crops can be irrigated, which helps increase the carbon that is sequestered in the soil.”
Under the management of CFM, Gundaline has expanded from cotton to additional crops including soybeans, wheat, canola and faba beans, with yields increasing each year.
A further 750ha has been identified as having potential for intensive horticulture development such as pistachios or citrus.
“The majority of Gundaline is medium clay soil.
“We’ve done a lot of work over the years incorporating gypsum and manures to help the plants access a deeper soil profile, which also helps increase water-use efficiency.
“We try to incorporate precision farming elements in everything we do, and we’re now utilising nutrition and moisture at a depth we haven’t been able to utilise before.”
Mr Parkes said the new owners share CFM’s commitment to sustainable agriculture and supporting rural communities.
“Gundaline was one of the first properties to achieve carbon-neutral accreditation for its cotton production, and the new owners are keen to continue that and ensure the carbon footprint of the property is kept under control.
“They’ve made a commitment to supporting local communities and rural life, as well as the current team of staff.”