Saturday, May 25, 2024

It started with a plan to fly fresh Tasmanian milk to China, but now Australia’s once-largest dairy is up for sale

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The remaining slice of a 200-year-old farming property in Tasmania’s north-west is up for sale, following years of controversy, unrealised grand ambitions, allegations of animal cruelty and mismanagement, and the recent loss of a major milk contract.

The property last sold in 2016 for $280 million in a contentious purchase to a Chinese investment company after an eleventh-hour bid that staved off two rival bids by Australian companies.

The sale required signing off by the Foreign Investment Review Board, headed by then-treasurer Scott Morrison.

At the time of its sale, it was the largest dairy operation in Australia, spanning a vast 143,500 hectares, milking 17,890 cows over 7,062 hectares.

On Monday, billionaire Chinese businessman Xianfeng Lu announced he would sell off the last 9,500 hectares of his landholdings at remote Woolnorth.

“It is with disappointment that I will be placing our remaining landholdings of Woolnorth on the property market, in anticipation of the expiration of our long-term milk supply agreement,” he said.

“It has been an honour to be the owner and custodian of one of Australia’s most important historic agricultural properties.”

Xianfeng Lu bought Van Diemen’s Land Company in 2016.(ABC Rural: Hugh Hogan)

The sale follows news that New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra cancelled its 25-million-litres per year milk contract with Mr Lu’s company, Van Dairy Ltd, formerly Moon Lake Investments, in February after a number of unresolvable commercial factors.

In the wake of the announcement, the ABC understands Mr Lu sent about 700 dairy cows to the nearby abattoir for slaughter.

Plan was to fly fresh milk to China

Initially, Mr Lu had a grand plan to fly millions of litres of fresh Tasmanian milk to Chinese consumers in Ningbo, Shanghai, Hangzhou and Beijing.

That did not eventuate.

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