Tattarang chases scale in oysters and mussels in Australia’s west

The family office of Andrew Forrest has recently added an aquaculture vertical to its existing beef business – and has plans for significant growth.

Aquaculture is seen by some investors as an untapped wall of opportunity – still small-scale in many jurisdictions and given less attention than the more traditional commodities produced on land.

One such investor that has turned its attention to this niche in recent years is Tattarang, the family office of Australia’s second-richest person, Andrew Forrest.

In an exclusive interview with Agri Investor this week, Tattarang chief investment officer John Hartman discussed the firm’s current agriculture and aquaculture portfolio, as well as its plans for further expansion.

The Forrest family has owned and operated pasture land in Western Australia for many years, but farming in the ocean is a much newer enterprise.

Hartman, though, argued the firm’s ambitions are much the same as they are in beef: to build a vertically integrated operation using strong technical expertise to improve production efficiency.

The firm has developed the Leeuwin Coast brand for its production of mussels and oysters, with its oyster farm at Albany on WA’s southern coastline home to the world’s first edible Akoya oyster farm (a variety more commonly known for its pearls).

“We saw opportunities with underutilized water leases that, through the introduction of new management techniques, could optimize the production system. Our head of aquaculture, Justin Welsh, is a marine scientist and we have a very technically-based team that is seeking to lead the way in the introduction of new technologies and management systems for shellfish,” Hartman told us.

“We’re doing it at a scale, on a single site, which is quite novel – a lot of other shellfish production is done on much smaller leases, on separate farms or cooperatives. So, the benefits from a biosecurity perspective, as well as production efficiency, are unique.”

Last month, we reported that private equity is eyeing up aquaculture opportunities around the world, despite certain parts of the sector being particularly hard-hit by the covid-19 pandemic, given their reliance on exports.

Australia has been no exception to that, with WA’s famous rock lobster industry struggling due to its dependence on China – a situation that won’t be helped by news this week that A$2 million ($1.4 million; €1.2 million) of product is stranded on the tarmac in Shanghai amid escalating trade tensions.

But Tattarang is taking a slightly different approach, focusing on the domestic market first. It has identified that WA has the highest consumption of mussels per capita in Australia, but imports most of its product from neighboring South Australia.

The firm sees an opportunity to take advantage of that first, eventually supplying all of WA’s mussels before turning to exports – by which time, markets should hopefully have settled down.

With opportunities abounding for aquaculture investment in other parts of Australia, too, it will be worth watching Tattarang’s progress in the west.