A 75-year relationship with the bush and a strong belief in the future and opportunities of Australian agriculture underpin the newly formed R.M.Williams Agricultural Holdings.

Story By Mark Muller

The fertile floodplains of the Reynolds River on Labelle Downs in the Northern Territory seem to glow in the soft September light. Feed is plentiful. Fat, contented cattle graze among a plethora of birdlife, well protected by groves of melaleuca. The port of Darwin, jump-off point to the export markets of Asia, lies little more than 100 kilometres to the north-east. These factors attracted the station’s previous owners – first the Townshend family, then Peter Camm and now, pending final settlement in November, R.M.Williams Agricultural Holdings (RMWAH).
Labelle and the adjoining Welltree Station, already purchased from Peter Camm, will form the hub of the beef operation for RMWAH, which is chaired by Ken Cowley AO, owner and chairman of R.M.Williams and former executive chairman of News Limited. The properties have a combined area of 99,400 hectares and have the capacity to finish approximately 35,000 head each year. The company also owns the Mirage Plains aggregation of properties in the Warrego region of south-west Queensland. That 42,000ha holding is prime organic farming and livestock land, with secure water allocations and the capacity to provide organic feed to RMWAH’s other acquisition, the Inglewood organic chicken-production facilities near Inglewood, in south-east Queensland. That operation sits on 2400ha of certified organic land currently producing 18,000 birds a week, but with the potential for much more.
Ken Cowley is plain about the reasons for extending the R.M.Williams brand into agriculture. “For 75 years we’ve had a close relationship with the bush and in many ways it’s a natural progression for the company,” Ken says. “The world needs food and Australia is in a great position to provide that food. I believe it’s important that our land is managed sustainably and effectively. We have the opportunity and the responsibility to do so, and so we are.”
An experienced and committed group of individuals has been brought together to do this. RMWAH was formed through the partnership of R.M.Williams and the agricultural-investment company Primary Holdings International, which has merged into RMWAH. The RMWAH board is comprised of Ken as chair; former chairman of Primary Holdings International David Pearse – who has also held senior executive roles with Cargill and Deutsche Bank – as managing director; CEO of R.M.Williams Hamish Turner as executive director; and former Unilever director Chris Jemmett as non-executive director. They make a formidable quartet, and are ably backed in managerial positions by the likes of cattleman Garry Hill, the brothers Angus and Bryce Graham, and former chairman of Lipton Export Jeff Fraser. The company is further supported by an advisory group containing the likes of former Australian Of The Year Tim Flannery (see Issue 52), former Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade Mark Vaile, and carbon-industry pioneer Ken Newcombe, among others.

This story excerpt is from Issue #67

Outback Magazine: Oct/Nov 2009