Craig North, the first Indigenous CEO of National Indigenous Pastoral Enterprises, has taken over the helm of one of Australia’s biggest cattle producers at a time beef prices are booming on the back of tight supply and growing international demand.
North, a Queenslander, has spent the first fortnight in his role at the Indigenous Land Corporation subsidiary visiting NIPE’s vast property holdings across Australia’s top end, and planning for the future.
“The agribusiness industry has been in various cycles,” he says. “Obviously it’s looking very bright now and we do want to capitalise on the current state of the industry by looking at diversifying in some areas as well as growing in others and also capitalising on supply opportunities for Indigenous businesses.”
At a time when much attention is being given to foreign investment in Australia’s pastoral and agriculture industries, NIPE and ILC, a Commonwealth corporate entity, has its roots firmly in Australia.
It has 14 agriculture businesses covering more than two million hectares and a herd of about 90,000 cattle.
North says up to 70 percent of NIPE’s cattle are exported to Indonesia and Vietnam, the remainder are sold into the domestic market. In the 2015-16 financial year it sold 25,000 head of cattle.
He says the corporation is well placed for diversification and to deliver on ILC’s goal of jobs and economic benefits for Australia’s Indigenous communities.
“NIPE, the agribusiness area of the ILC, has been going for about 15 years now and that’s been getting Indigenous lands into production and that’s been some land we’ve acquired for Indigenous organisations as well as existing Indigenous-held properties where they have asked the ILC or NIPE to lease back to put investment into that land to bring it into agriculture production,” he says.
“We feel we are well placed after 15 years of these operations.”
North says NIPE’s core business would remain its cattle operations in the NT, WA and Queensland, but they were also looking at opportunities in horticulture and aquaculture and the possibility of an increased presence in southern Australia. NIPE already has a sheep operation on Bruny Island, off Tasmania.
“We think our growth area’s around supply chain opportunities,” he says. “We’re hoping Indigenous businesses, even as a part of our operations, can expand with their enterprises.
“Jobs go hand-in-hand with business growth.
“Another area we are looking at is an advisory service to target Indigenous land owners or businesses to make them more investment-ready to lead to other commercial partnerships with NIPE or other investors.”
North’s appointment follows that of new ILC chief executive John Maher, a former managing director of RuralCo, who joined the corporation in June.
North says they are currently examining the corporation’s strategic direction.
“We’re certainly very focused in our investment in Aboriginal jobs and career development,” he says. “As a part of that strategy we’re wanting to have plans in place to ensure there is Aboriginal representation at all levels of the workforce, not just in property, but in management and administration.”
The ILC was established in 1995 to help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people acquire and manage land to achieve economic, environmental, social and cultural benefits.