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Briefcase: Business snippets from around SA


In this week’s briefcase, SA is on track for a top-dollar grain harvest, Wine Australia announces its new CEO and Marmota takes full ownership of a uranium tenement in the state’s northeast.

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SA on track for high-value grain harvest

Strong prices have South Australia’s grain harvest on track to be the most valuable on record despite a drier than average autumn and spring.

According to the State Government’s latest Crop and Pasture Report, released on Friday, the 2021-22 crop is expected to reach a farmgate value of $2.8 billion.

The report indicates South Australian grain production is set for 7.98 million tonnes, close to the 10-year average of 8 million tonnes.

Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development David Basham said South Australian farmers may be able to capitalise on unfavourable conditions in other world grain producing countries.

“While the report highlights South Australian grain production remaining average depended on spring rains, record prices for some varieties are driving strong returns to the grain industry,” he said.

“The report estimates an area of 3.9 million hectares has been sown, above the long-term average despite 70 per cent of the area sown dry.”

According to the report, crops in most districts have average to above average yield potential, except for the Northern Murray Mallee and parts of the Upper North which are recording below average yield potential.

Soil moisture is also poor in the Lower Murray and Southern Murray Mallee.

After the late arrival of opening rains in mid-June, above average rainfall in July has significantly contributed towards crop establishment and replenished soil moisture reserves.

“Deeper soil moisture from these rains have supported the crops into spring, however below average August rains and the continuing drier trend in early September has emphasised the need for good spring rains to finish the season,” Basham said.

“According to the report, crops in most districts have average to above average yield potential, except for the Northern Murray Mallee and parts of the Upper North which are recording below average yield potential. Soil moisture is also poor in the Lower Murray and Southern Murray Mallee.

“Many farmers opted to sow barley due to the late start, with the area under wheat near average. A high canola price outlook provided an incentive for producers to stick with the crop and a decline in demand has resulted in a significant reduction in the area sown for export hay.”

GFG agrees to new debt plan, boosts UK funding

Whyalla steelworks owner GFG Alliance says it has agreed to a debt restructuring plan for its Australian operations, potentially ending months of uncertainty around the plant’s future.

The global company has also announced $A93 million cash injection to re-open an English plant to safeguard hundreds of jobs in the UK.

The £50 million Liberty Steel announcement, affecting its plant in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, is part of a wider restructure of GFG Alliance, Liberty’s owner, which was forced to seek funding when its key lender, Greensill Capital, collapsed.

Chief restructuring officer Jeffrey S Stein said the company had agreed to a debt restructuring plan in Australia, which includes the Whyalla operations and a coal mine in New South Wales.

“I’m pleased to report a significant advance in GFG Alliance’s global restructuring,” he said.

“The debt restructuring we have agreed for Liberty Primary Metals Australia gives the business clarity and stability, and secures a clear recovery plan for creditors,” he said.

“The funding we are injecting to Liberty Steel UK puts it in a strong position for business transformation and debt restructuring.”

The UK funding will allow the Rotherham plant to reopen after being closed for several months.

Executive chairman of GFG Alliance Sanjeev Gupta said: “Through the hard work and determination of our team, our Australian integrated operations are now profitable and performing the best they have for many years.

“I’d like to thank all our stakeholders – government, union representatives, customers, suppliers and of course our employees and the local community – for the support they’ve shown GFG Alliance as we managed our way through the challenges created by the Greensill collapse.”

Gupta has been under immense pressure since his firm’s major supply chain financier Greensill Capital filed for insolvency in the UK at the start of March after billions of dollars of its credit insurance expired.

In Australia, Citibank, on behalf of Credit Suisse, lodged an application in the New South Wales Supreme Court in April to wind up the operations of Gupta’s OneSteel Manufacturing and Tahmoor Coal Pty Ltd.

Successful legal action could have forced the Whyalla steelworks – the town’s biggest employer with around 1200 workers – into liquidation.

However, the court action was put on hold in May to allow more time for a debt restructure to be finalised.

With AAP

Wine Australia appoints new CEO

Internationally recognised food scientist Dr Martin Cole has been appointed CEO of Wine Australia.

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud today announced Cole would begin in the role on November 15, replacing Andreas Clark who finished in the role in July.

Littleproud said the engagement of a new CEO would provide certainty for the organisation after a period of significant challenges, including COVID-19, drought and bushfires.

“Under Dr Cole’s leadership, Wine Australia will continue to deliver on its mission to support a competitive wine sector, growing domestic and international markets and protecting the reputation of Australian wine,” Minister Littleproud said.

“Demand for Aussie wine continues to grow both here and overseas, and Wine Australia is crucial in promoting Australian wine internationally as some of the safest, most sustainable and highest quality wine in the world.

“Dr Cole was head of Agriculture, Food and Wine at the University of Adelaide and brings a wealth of scientific and leadership experience to the position.

“I have no doubt he will continue to support the organisation on its journey toward the wine industry’s Vision 2050 which guides the sector’s focus over the next three decades.”

Clark was with Wine Australia for 15 years, including eight years as CEO.

He also led the organisation through its transformation from the Wine Australia Corporation and its merger with the Grape and Wine Research and Development Corporation in 2014.

“During his time as CEO, Mr Clark provided leadership to deliver strong growth in the value of wine exports through the $50 million Export and Regional Wine Support Package, while also responding to significant challenges including drought and the 2020 bushfires,” Littleproud said.

“I’d also like to thank Steven Weinert for his stewardship in the acting role since July.”

Ausco reaches modular milestone

Adelaide-based transportable building constructor Ausco Modular is celebrating its sixtieth anniversary this year having undergone several expansions since its establishment.

Ausco was established in 1961 as a subsidiary of the Alberta Trailer Company before taking its current name in 1986 and joining the Algeco Group in 2011.

Ausco’s Regional Manager for South Australia, Simon Manser, said the company is proud of its long-term contribution to construction in SA.

“Ausco is a major South Australian success story and has provided an essential service to the state, and across Australia, for 60 years,” he said.

“South Australians can be very proud of what this company has produced.

“To us, they are not just buildings, but classrooms in growing schools, accommodation for remote workers, change rooms for sporting clubs, and facilities for emergency workers.”

According to Ausco, the company has assembled $245 million of modular buildings in the past six years, as well as recording annual turnover of approximately $390 million.

Ausco now exports to over 40 countries and has facilities in Australia, New Zealand and Asia, including five manufacturing sites, whilst still operating from its original Edinburgh North site.

Marmota secures uranium site

South Australian mining company Marmota Limited has bolstered its uranium prospects, acquiring exclusive rights to the tenement for the Junction Dam mine near Broken Hill.

The acquisition sees Marmota take over ownership of the mining rights from Teck Australia, Eaglehawk Geological Consulting and Variscan Mines after the companies entered into a Joint Venture Agreement in 2009.

The site in SA’s northeast is also near the former Honeymoon uranium mine, where Boss Energy plans to resume mining in the coming years.

As part of the deal, Marmota has granted a combined five per cent royalty of net profits generated from future mining at Junction Dam to the previous tenement holders.

This is made up of 4.38 per cent royalties to Teck Australia, 0.12 per cent to Eaglehawk and 0.5 per cent to Variscan, according to Marmota.

Marmota paused work at the Junction Dam site in 2014 following the Fukushima nuclear disaster and no subsequent drilling has been undertaken since.

Gold mining has been Marmota’s main focus since work stopped at Junction Dam, with one of its most successful years coming in FY21, according to the company’s annual report.

Chairman Dr Colin Rose said the deal means Marmota will have greater control of realising its goals in the uranium industry.

“The acquisition of the Junction Dam tenement makes Marmota, for the first time, masters of our own destiny in the uranium space,” he said.

“It is the first and critical step for the company to realise the value of this outstanding asset for our shareholders.”

Kid-friendly software to help raise bushfire awareness

Adelaide Hills community group Bushfire Kids Connect will increase its bushfire awareness campaigning, partnering with educational tech company Makers Empire to pilot a school program targeted at educating kids on bushfire awareness.

The Australia-first program will be trialled in 10 South Australian primary schools, with an aim to help students better understand bushfires, their causes, their environmental impact and approaches to sustainable bushfire management.

The program will also focus on sustainable approaches to bushfire management, including Indigenous land and fire management.

Adelaide-based Makers Empire design and create software to help children develop their problem-solving skills, imagination and creative confidence.

Mandi Dimitriadis, Director of Learning at Makers Empire, said he looks forward to helping the next generation develop more awareness on the topic.

“We look forward to working with Bushfire Kids Connect to help children become better informed about bushfires, support their well-being and empower them to solve problems caused by bushfires,” he said.

The program also includes a Learning by Design professional development course for teachers, which includes guest speakers on bushfire prevention, the environment and wellbeing.

Carly Ascott, who co-founded Bushfire Kids Connect with her nine-year-old son, Sebastian, says the program fills the gap in mental health support for children after fires.

“This partnership with Makers Empire is an exciting opportunity to help our next generation grow their understanding, resilience and emotional preparedness around bushfires,” Ascott said.

Bushfire Kids Connect has worked with more than 100 families across South Australia in the past two years.

The program will begin rolling out in schools throughout October.

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