Agriculture has always had its fair share of big performers, but some of our biggest private farm industry businesses are much bigger on the national scene than many may expect.
Latest analysis by business information researcher, IbisWorld, puts four farm sector players within the top 10 of Australia’s leading 500 private businesses, based on their revenue in 2016-17.
West Australian-based grain industry heavyweight and fiercely independent farmer co-operative, CBH Group, leads the list ranked as the nation’s third biggest private company, behind the Pratt family’s Visy paper and packaging business and retailing’s 7-Eleven.
CBH, Australia's largest exporter of grain to more than 30 export markets, including milling operations it owns stakes in, had a revenue of $3.5 billion last year.
Also in the top 10 was another prominent farmer-owned business, dairy co-operative Murray Goulburn, ranked seventh; meat processor and exporter, Brisbane-based Teys Australia (8), and the industry-owned marketer responsible for most of Australia’s raw sugar exports, Queensland Sugar (10).
All three had revenues in the $2b-plus category, although revenue for CBH, MG and Teys fell by between five and 10 per cent last year.
The private company performance listing is prepared annually with The Australian Financial Review.
Interestingly, all four ranked higher than another enthusiastic agricultural player of recent years, the diversifying mining industry giant, Hancock Prospecting.
Multi-billionaire, Gina Rinehart’s Hancock business, now Australia’s third biggest cattle producer, placed at 18 on the Top 500 list.
Meat processing pays
Elsewhere strong agribusiness performers this year included the Honan family’s NSW-based grain milling, sugar refining, meat and ethanol business, Manildra Group, ranked at 26 after a 7.1pc revenue rise to $1.5b, closely followed by South Australia’s Thomas Foods International meat processing business at 28 after a 13pc revenue rise to $1.4b.
Other meat and livestock companies Bindaree Beef and Australian Country Choice ranked 57 and 58 with respective revenues of $799m and $705m, while NSW and WA sheepmeat processor Fletcher International Exports ranked at 85.
It quite common for Australians to think of agriculture as made up of cottage industries, but the list highlights the significance of many regional farm sector businesses,
Fletcher International, headed by the quietly determined former drover, turned abattoir owner, grain trader, cotton, cattle and woolgrower and freight entrepreneur, Roger Fletcher, had about $550m in revenue.
The McDonald family’s NSW-based Bindaree company, which has just taken a 51pc Chinese partner, was one of the fastest rising stars on the private companies list after a huge increase revenue of almost 3000pc.
“It quite common for Australians to think of agriculture as made up of cottage industries, but the list highlights the significance of many regional farm sector businesses,” said Agribusiness Australia chief executive officer, Tim Burrow.
Significant farm support
“Quite a few privately-owned farm services sector firms also rate as big employers and they’re also critical to the success of our primary producers.
“Often we only realise how significant our private ag companies are if they go public and list on the stock market – suddenly they’re a big talking point in the financial media.
“The Costa horticultural group and Inghams chicken business are good examples.”
Mr Burrow believed community recognition of agribusiness was easier to detect in metropolitan Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide, than bigger Sydney or Melbourne, yet agribusiness indirectly infiltrated so many city employment categories, from cafes serving eggs and smashed avocado, to service stations selling ethanol blended fuel, or the banking sector.
Even major professional services firms such as PricewaterhouseCoopers (ranked 11 on the private companies list), EY (21), and KPMG (25), had agribusiness divisions generating considerable local and overseas earnings.
Business Council of Co-operatives and Mutuals, chief executive officer Melina Morrison, noted the role of co-operatives in the top 500, particularly CBH, MG, Queensland Sugar, Norco (82) and health services funds such as HCF (6).
“The co-operative and mutual business structure is the ninja economy hiding in plain sight – it’s the way to do business in the current economic climate,” she said.
Outside the private sector, Australia’s top 10 publicly listed and internationally-owned agribusinesses are dairy and beverage company, Lion; Coca-Cola Amatil; GrainCorp; meat processor JBS Australia; almond and cotton processor, Olam Australia; Glencore Grain; fertiliser maker, Incitec Pivot; Cargill Australia, Inghams and chemical company, Nufarm.