RESPECTED South Australian farmer Peter Kuhlmann is calling time on more than a century of family ownership of Mudabie at Mudamuckla on the Upper Eyre Peninsula.
Covering 18,408ha, it is one of SA’s largest contiguous cropping operations, and grows wheat and barley on its arable area of 12,476ha, as well as running a self-replacing flock of 2000 Merino ewes.
Agent JLL Agribusiness is calling for expressions of interest on Mudabie by March 14, and is expecting the turnkey operation and institutional-grade asset to make north of $20 million on a walk-in walk-out basis.
“We anticipate strong interest from corporate and institutional groups, drawn by the opportunity to secure geographical diversity via the Eyre Peninsula region at an unrivalled scale, as well as private operators seeking greater scale in the region due to the property’s tightly held and high-performing history,” JLL Agribusiness associate director Jock Grimshaw said.
Economies of scale
Mr Kuhlmann’s grandfather Harry moved from the Barossa Valley to Mudamuckla in 1911, and bought his first portion of land in 1918.
Harry’s son and Frank took over in 1955 and in 1981 handed the reins to his son Peter, a graduate of SA’s Roseworthy Agricultural College.
Since then, Peter Kuhlmann told Grain Central advances in cropping have been considerable.
“Farming now is a lot more precise,” Mr Kuhlmann said.
“We’re using precision agriculture, and we have better seed placement and good summer weed control.”
Over the decades, Mudabie has improved its profitability.
While its average wheat yield to 2020 was 1.2t/ha, Mudabie set a new record of 2.7t/ha in SA’s bumper year of 2022.
Crop nutrition has also become more cost-effective with the arrival of double-analysis fertiliser and other more targeted preparations.
“We’ve been using liquid fertiliser for 20 years in phosphoric acid, which is good for our soil with such a high lime content.”
Mr Kuhlmann was in 2012 named as the Kondinin Group, ABC Rural and Australian Rural Leadership Foundation Australian Grain Grower of the Year, and went on to take out the overall 2012 Australian Farmer of the Year.
The win was testament to not just to the Kuhlmann family, but the long-standing team at Mudabie, and the adoption of modern farming practices.
While annual rainfall at Mudabie is comparatively low at 291mm, efficiencies are high, aided not least by Mudabie’s location only 40km from Viterra’s Thevenard grain export terminal
“We’re right on the Eyre Highway, so that helps.”
Role for sheep
Mudabie started as a cropping property, and sheep were introduced once water was made available via the pipeline that accompanied the building of the railway early last century.
“Grandpa started with cropping because they didn’t have water; we don’t have clay soils, so we couldn’t store surface water.
“Once mains water arrived, sheep became a proposition.”
Mudabie’s flock lambs in July, and generates income through wool and prime lambs.
These days, mains water is supplemented by a poly-lined area of more than 1ha to catch surface water which feeds into a sub-surface storage.
Proven for remote management
Mr Kuhlmann’s decision to sell it is a pragmatic one, with his two daughters settled in Adelaide, and he and his partner nearby, all an eight-hour drive from Mudabie.
“It comes down to the crunch of whether you sell or lease,” Mr Kuhlmann said.
“One of the selling points is that it’s contiguous, and trying to break it up would not be so good with the way its set up with laneways, and the location of machinery across the place.
“The obvious way is to sell it as a whole.”
Mr Kuhlmann moved to Adelaide with his family in 2000, and he returns to Mudabie for seeding and harvest.
“In the big year of 2022, I was out there for half of it, but normally I’m out there when we’re getting ready for seeding, and for harvest, or when there are big decisions to be made.
“I’ve been running it remotely, and that’s a feature of the set-up.”
So is the established team which is happy to consider staying on under new ownership.
Along with Mr Grimshaw, JLL Agribusiness senior directors Chris Holgar and Geoff Warriner are handling the sale of Mudabie.
“The Kuhlmanns’ ongoing investment in education, research and technology has positioned Mudabie as a leader in the agricultural sector,” Mr Holgar said.
“Through a continued focus on incremental improvements and precision agriculture, they have been able to minimise risk while enhancing financial efficiency and profitability.
“This has played out across every level of the business, from practical strategies such as the implementation of risk mitigation via minimum tillage cropping systems to the introduction of remote management systems and the establishment of an independent Farm Advisory Board.
“It has allowed the property to best capitalise on strong growing conditions in recent years.”
Mr Warriner said Mudabie’s appeal was further enhanced by its comparative value proposition.
“Underpinned by best-practice management, Mudabie has been able to drive incremental improvements in cropping yields, creating a substantial impact on financial outcomes, with a return on asset averaging in excess of 8 per cent on the past five years, significantly above industry average,” Mr Warriner said.
“On a national basis, the region represents a strong value proposition when you consider land rates and productive capacity.
“Compared with many other mid-to-high rainfall cropping areas throughout Australia, it offers a stronger and more attractive return profile.”
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