For sale: Australian cattle ranch that is world's largest

AP News
Posted: Oct 26, 2015 2:57 AM

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — A company that owns the world's largest cattle ranch and other Australian land greater in area than South Korea is up for sale.

Don Manifold, a director of Ernst and Young who is managing the sale, said on Monday he expects between six and 12 bidders will lodge their offers for Australia's largest private landowner by the Tuesday deadline.

The company, S. Kidman & Co. Ltd., owns 10 cattle ranches, a bull breeding stud and a feed lot covering 101,411 square kilometers (39,155 square miles) in four states. That's an area bigger than South Korea and almost as big as the U.S. state of Virginia.

Media speculation about the price has ranged from 300 million Australian dollars ($219 million) to AU$650 million.

At least three Chinese bidders are reportedly interested in buying the Adelaide-based company which was founded by beef baron Sir Sidney Kidman in 1899. Foreign bids would be scrutinized by Australia's Foreign Investment Review Board to ensure that such a sale would be in Australia's national interest.

Kidman owns the world's biggest cattle ranch, Anna Creek Station, which covers 23,677 square kilometers (9,142 square miles) of arid central Australia. Part of it is inside the 122,188 square kilometer (47,177 square mile) Defense Department-controlled Woomera Prohibited Area, the world's largest rocket firing range.

The Defense Department blocked two Chinese investments in mines on security grounds in 2009 because they were within the Woomera range.

Manifold did not expect similar problems with foreign investment in Anna Creek because it was in a less sensitive part of the range.

All bidders would have to obtain Defense Department consent to operate in the prohibited area as the current owners had.

Manifold said Defense Department permission, Foreign Investment Review Board permits and other government approvals would have to be provided before a bidder could be declared the preferred buyer late this year.

Mick Keogh, executive director of the Australian Farm Institute, said the Australian beef industry was emerging from years of low profitability due to drought and a high Australian dollar inflated by a mining boom that has now passed.

Despite the size of Kidman's land holdings, its ranches are largely semi-desert and carry only an average herd of 185,000 cattle, which is a fraction of a percent of the total Australian herd.