R.M. WILLIAMS Agricultural Holdings (RMWAH) has quietly spent the past three years becoming the largest player in the Australian organic free-range poultry market.
Perhaps best known for a number of controversies since its inception in 2009 – including heavy criticism from the beef industry over the joint federal government purchase and subsequent de-stocking of Henbury Station in the Northern Territory – the company is now on a mission to push out one key message: protein production.
Since purchasing the Inglewood Farms organic free-range poultry company in 2009, RMWAH has expanded the business exponentially, recording 30 per cent year-on-year sales increases and doubling the capacity of the 2072-hectare farm at Inglewood just over the Queensland border.
Having now achieved about 80pc domination of the domestic market – and with growth starting to plateau – the company is looking to the export market.
While the company also backgrounds about 30,000 head of cattle in a good year for the live export market on
its two other Northern Territory properties, “Labelle” and “Welltree”, RMWAH chief operating officer Rory Richards said Inglewood Farms was the income driver of the company.
“From an income-generating perspective, at the moment Inglewood Farms is the only RMWAH business that turns over ($250,000-$500,000) a week,” he said.
“I wouldn’t like to say it’s the flagship, but it certainly is very important. It is what generates our income.
“From a cash-flow perspective, Inglewood Farms stands alone.”
About 90 of the 140 RMWAH employees are based at Inglewood Farms.
Mr Richards – who is on the interim management team – said while the environmental values of RMWAH were important, protein production was the focus of the business.
“Our core business is protein production, that is what we market and sell ourselves on,” he said.
“It’s good for us to have a sound environmental base and we are very proactive in that role.
“Across all our properties we have a strong environmental interest but we found we drifted away from our core principle which is protein production.”
Since purchasing Inglewood Farms, the company has increased the amount of growing sheds to 52, built four state-of-the-art brooding sheds and is currently developing its own bird, bred specifically for the organic market.
With the exception of the purchase of grain, the business is completely vertically integrated.
“We’ve doubled our capacity and we’ve doubled our production,” Mr Richards said.
“That’s where exports are playing such a major role right now – we’ve almost saturated the domestic market.”
The company also owns the 45,000ha “Mirage Plains” aggregation in western Qld, which it uses to grow organic grain for Inglewood Farms, however, this land package is on the market.
Mr Richards said when Inglewood Farms was first purchased “Mirage Plains” supplied about 60pc of its grain needs.
However, with turnoff now about 30,000 birds each week – and set to continue rising – “Mirage Plains” only satisfies about 5pc of that need.
Once “Mirage Plains” sells, RMWAH plans to hit the market in search of a broadacre cropping property which can produce a larger amount of organic grain for the Inglewood Farms business.
While organic free-range poultry is the driver of the business, Mr Richards said they also planned to increase beef production in the Northern Territory.
With the success of that part of the business tied to the volatile live export market, Mr Richards said RMWAH was sweating on the imminent construction of the Australian Agricultu-
ral Company abattoir in the NT.
“We’ve always believed that live export has a limited time frame. We see the development of an abattoir in the NT as critical,” he said.
“Our model calls for further processing in the NT.
“Our interested investment partners are looking for that.
“They want to be able to process onshore and take it offshore, they don’t want live export.”
The company wants to expand its footprint in the NT and Mr Richards said they were looking to purchase a breeder block – with a turnoff of between 20,000 to 30,000 head a year – within the next 12 months.