Lex Greensill. Photo Paul Beutel.
Lex Greensill. Photo Paul Beutel.

Bundy billionaire clan’s $40m land buying spree

The Greensills have snapped up more than $40m of land in the Bundaberg region over the last five years as they expanded their agricultural operations into one of the biggest in the state.

The acquisitions have allowed the Greensills to expand their broadacre production of sweet potatoes, peanuts and cane to gain lucrative supply contracts with national food brands including Coles, Bega and Edgell.

But there are worrying signs the operations could be collateral damage in the fall out from the Greensill Capital collapse, with signs the farms are under some financial pressure. Greensill Capital was worth an estimated $7bn before it collapsed and entered voluntary administration on Tuesday morning.

Greensill, founded by Bundaberg-born Lex Greensill, has been selling off assets in recent months including a fleet of private jets in an effort to save costs.

Staff of Greensill Farming Group, which has holdings totalling more than 4000 hectares across the region, have reportedly been told to tighten their belts with restrictions on overtime and unnecessary expenditure. Greensill Farming Group did not respond to a request for comment.

 

Lex Greensill. Photo Paul Beutel.
Lex Greensill. Photo Paul Beutel.

Greensill Farming boss Peter Greensill last week was quick to calm concerns, announcing the farms operated separately from Greensill Capital. Mr Greensill also has assured Bundaberg Mayor Jack Dempsey that the Greensill Farming business would continue uninterrupted.

The family said expansion of their Qunaba farm on the outskirts of the Queensland sugar city, including new packing sheds and a green waste depot, was on track.

But locals fear the impact of the collapse of Greensill Capital on the family, some of which hold stakes in the financial side of the business. The Greensills have been farming in the region for three generations and employ hundeds of workers and contractors.

Agriculture remains a pillar of the local economy, producing over $1bn of crops each year thanks to the region's nutrient rich red soils, access to water and temperate climate.

While cane, macadamias, sweet potatoes and avocados have driven growth in recent years, crops such as medicinal cannabis and speciality nuts are now being explored.

Expansion of freight facilities at Bundaberg Airport and the Port of Bundaberg are being explored to help improve shipping links.

The Greensills have helped spearhead the expansion of the region's agricultural bounty going on a land buying spree over the last five years that increased the size of their land holdings by several hundred hectares.

 

Workers harvest watermelons at Greensill Farms, Bundaberg.
Workers harvest watermelons at Greensill Farms, Bundaberg.

That included the purchase of a 151ha property at nearby Oakwood in May 2017 for $11m. In 2015, they picked up a 616ha sugar cane farm at Duingal, west of Bundaberg, for $3.6m while in 2019 the family bought a 350ha property at nearby St Kilda for $6m.

Rural land values in Bundaberg - which for generations relied largely on sugar cane - have increased significantly in recent years amid a surge in planting of more lucrative horticultural and tree crops by farming families such as the Greensills.

The Greensills now grow crops of peanuts for Bega Peanut Butter as well as sweet potatoes for an Edgells chip range.

The family also has partnered with a local firm Oreco to supply sorghum and lucerne for animal feed and fibre products. Bega and Oreco did not return a request for comment.

Next week, Greensill Farming Group's chief executive Damien Botha is set to address a Urban Development Institute of Australia event where he will outline the company's plans for 2021 as well as their "partnership with Sweet Potatoes Australia, Oreco Group and Bega." Locals no doubt will be interested in what is planned for what has already been a troubled year for one of the city's most prominent families.

 

Originally published as Bundy billionaire clan's $40m land buying spree


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