Owned by Qatar’s Hassad Food Company, the newly aggregated Telopea Downs Station is being developed to an impressive size and scale.
Story By Tom Dawkins
The sign to Telopea Downs is easy to overlook on the drive between Melbourne and Adelaide. In fact, despite being only 40 kilometres off the national highway, almost all interstate travellers who fly past the turn-off would plead ignorance to its very existence. Even in the farming community, this area is often seen as a poor cousin of the more fertile rural districts further south in the West Wimmera and South Australia’s south-east.
As such, Telopea Downs is an unlikely place to find one of the most remarkable stories of modern investment in Australian agriculture on a large scale. Less than a year since it purchased a large parcel of land in the area, Hassad Australia is overseeing significant development work on its Telopea Downs aggregation, the size and value of which would be unimaginable in conventional family-farming operations. Hassad Australia was established in November 2009 as the first overseas investment of the Hassad Food Company, a unit of the Qatar Investment Authority.
Telopea Downs Station, as the aggregation is now called, comprises nine Victorian properties and an adjoining block on the South Australian side of the border, totalling 40,450 hectares. The property is essentially 40km long and 10km wide on a north/south axis, straddling the state border for about 15km. It is dominated by a mix of undulating sand dunes and plains.
Agricultural development in the area began in 1954 as part of a project by Australian Mutual Provident (AMP) to transform the local desert country into productive farmland. AMP was allotted 100,000ha of the Big Desert in the Telopea Downs area. Land was cleared, ploughed and leased out for grazing until the soils were deemed productive enough for cropping.
But many early farms proved too small to survive, especially when recurrent droughts swept the district. Over the years, adjoining farms have been combined and the local community has shrunk. Absentee-owner properties have become common in the area, with most of the properties purchased by Hassad falling into this category.
The new aggregation forms part of Hassad’s wider portfolio of Australian properties, which total 250,000ha over 11 properties from Queensland to Western Australia. While some of its other properties are geared towards Hassad’s aim of producing 160,000 tonnes of grain a year, the main focus at Telopea Downs is lamb.
This story excerpt is from Issue #88
Outback Magazine: Apr/May 2013