MEDIA-buying legend Harold Mitchell and his cattle-producing partners have doubled the size of their land holdings by leasing more than half a million hectares from Aboriginal pastoral companies in Western Australia.
Yougawalla Pastoral, owned by Mr Mitchell along with former Seven West Media director Doug Flynn and the Sale family, has leased four cattle stations in the Kimberley region totalling more than 560,000 hectares.
"I started this three years ago when it was in the bleakest and darkest of times for the industry," Mr Mitchell said.
"There are great opportunities ahead, especially with Indonesia."
Mr Mitchell, one of Australia's most well-connected businessmen, is chairman of Prime Minister Tony Abbott's newly created Australian Indonesia Centre. Indonesia was Australia's largest live-cattle export market in 2014, taking more than 600,000 head, more than double the previous year.
The anticipation of further growth, not just in Indonesia but also with China following the recent free trade deal, has seen numerous business people join in an acquisition phase in Australia's north.
Mining magnate Gina Rinehart struck a deal to purchase four Kimberley cattle stations last month worth about $68 million, adding to interests in two stations she has already in a joint venture with Dowford Investments.
"When I was in the advertising business I knew you needed to get scale get bigger and do it quickly," Mr Mitchell said.
Yougawalla Pastoral has leased the 161,000 hectare Louisa Downs, the 141,000 ha Bohemia Downs, the 80,000 ha Carranya Station and the 182,000 ha Lamboo Station.
All the leases are for periods of between five and 10 years and all have been agreed with individual Aboriginal corporations.
Yougawalla Pastoral's Haydn Sale said the company's cattle herd was now 40,000 but that the target was to build the herd to 100,000. With the new leases an additional 10,000 head of cattle have been added to the operation.
"We have been in a fortunate situation to have had partners such as Harold and Doug, especially when things were depressed; now we are hoping we will get at least two years of growth," Mr Sale said.
Prices for live export cattle have drifted up from about $1.60 a kilogram into $2.50/kg for weighted cattle of between 250 and 350 kilograms.
Yougawalla exports about 80 per cent of its herd however the remaining 20 per cent need to be trucked more than 2000 kilometres to the nearest abattoir at Harvey in the south of Western Australia, now part owned by Andrew 'Twiggy' Forrest.
However, two proposed abattoirs are expected to be opened closer to Yougawalla's stations: one in Darwin and one between Broome and Derby.
"We are in a growth phase so we are keeping all our females; we will sell about 6000 or 7000 male cattle per year," Mr Sale said.
The deal with the new leases will involve Yougawalla investing in infrastructure on the properties, including fences, dams and troughs. In the last few years the company has built more than 1000 kilometres of fencing.
The new stations include a variety of buffel, mitchell and soft spinifex grasses, with some watered by the Margaret River.