29/10/2002 - 21:00

Milne slots in to Laitt empire

29/10/2002 - 21:00


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GRAHAM Laitt is aiming to build a $100 million WA agribusiness enterprise after taking control of Welshpool-based Milne Feeds and folding it into his pastoral holdings.

Milne slots in to Laitt empire

GRAHAM Laitt is aiming to build a $100 million WA agribusiness enterprise after taking control of Welshpool-based Milne Feeds and folding it into his pastoral holdings.

Mr Laitt, who steps down as chief executive officer of Peters & Brownes from December 1, is also in the process of adding some large southern land holdings into what he hopes will be a vertically integrated operation from “paddock to plate”.

He said the group would comprise Milne Feeds’ livestock feed operations, including the Mt Barker Poultry and Australian Natural Pork businesses, his family’s existing Kimberley pastoral leases and two wheat/sheep farms near Wagin.

“There is an opportunity for an integrated agribusiness operator in WA,” Mr Laitt said.

He returns to Milne – the company where he first entered the business arena in 1987, following a career in law – after 14 years at the head of Peters & Brownes.

“That is where I sort of learned business,” Mr Laitt said.

He said he enjoyed building businesses and growing export markets, something largely taken out of his hands at Peters & Brownes after it had been taken over by New Zealand’s Fonterra Co-operative Group, one of the Southern Hemisphere’s biggest fast-moving consumer goods companies.

Peters & Brownes grew from being a small WA dairy producer to an expert in ice cream production, an innovative exporter and national player with big trans-Tasman holdings.

Mr Laitt, who will be succeeded at the head of Fonterra’s Australian operations by Nigel Thomas, has put behind him a nasty legal tussle with former investment partner Gad Raveh, which ended about two years ago in a confidential settlement.

Peters & Brownes controlled Milne until a few years ago, when plans to float the dairy group prompted a divestment of non-core assets.

In the late 1990s, Milne was bought by farmer cooperative RTC, but struggled in the hands of its new owners. Mr Laitt said he and some other investors bought Milne about a year ago and his family interests had now taken over the whole company.

Unlike Peters & Brownes, in which he still holds a 9 per cent stake, Mr Laitt said he was not structuring his new business for a future float.

However, he said a business worth about $100 million was a worthy aim, with the current business centred around Milne and the pastoral leases worth more than $40 million.

Liveringa and Nerrima stations near Broome carry about 40,000 head of cattle between them.

Mr Laitt said his family company was in the process of buying Jaloran near Wagin and Cheviot Hills farms near Kojonup to create a southern land holding worth between $10 million and $12 million.

The Milne Feeds purchase also includes the Clover Meats abattoirs at Waroona, although there are no plans to reopen this facility at this stage.

In order to achieve efficiencies the group will look at adding cattle to the mix in the south.

Mr Laitt said he was keen to expand the export side of the business, the various parts of which already export hay to Japan, sheepmeat to the Middle East

and beef to Indonesia – with a number of projects in the pipeline.

It is difficult to find any comparable company to the structure Mr Laitt is building, with Kimberley beef exporter Heytesbury being one of the closest, if not much more focused geographically and in a product sense.

“I think the proposals we are pursuing are interesting; it has not really been done in WA,” Mr Laitt said.

He said he was not overly concerned about political developments in some of his key markets.

“People still have to eat,” Mr Laitt said.


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