Webster Limited is Australia's fourth oldest business. It commenced operating in 1831, just 28 years after the settlement of Van Diemen's Land, as a traditional pastoral house. One hundred and eighty years on, it is now a diversified food and agribusiness with a growing reputation locally and internationally for the quality of its produce.
The Company saw many changes during the 19th and 20th centuries. In particular, Webster played a part in the historical development of the dairy, energy and paper making industries by supplying generators, refrigeration equipment, pumps and motors to these sectors over a period of more than 100 years.
In the 1960s, Webster also established itself as a specialist in bearings and engineering supplies. These industrial businesses operated as Webster Trucks & Machinery, and Webster Bearings and Engineering Supplies.
Webster Limited listed on the Australian stock exchange in 1974 (ASX:WBA).
Using its traditional rural services, merchandising and heavy equipment segments as a base, Webster entered the horticultural industry with the acquisition of leading onion exporter, Vecon Pty Ltd in 1996. Rationalisation of the onion industry then saw 3 former competitors combine their resources to form Field Fresh Tasmania (FFT) with Webster holding 50%. Subsequently, Webster acquired the other 50% of FFT and this business is one of Webster's two operating divisions today.
Webster broadened its interests in the food sector with the 50% acquisition of Aquatas in 1999 and the remaining 50% in 2001, adding to its long and vibrant history as an innovative Tasmanian company. In 2005, Webster positioned itself in a strong strategic position in the salmon industry through the merger of wholly owned subsidiary Aquatas, with the ASX-listed Tassal Group Limited (ASX:TGR). Webster emerged from that transaction as the largest shareholder in Tassal Group Ltd with a 25% stake.
During the late 1990's and early 2000's, Webster continued the pioneering work done by Vecon in the fledgling walnut industry through the establishment of a 540 hectare walnut orchard at Swansea on the east coast of Tasmania. Then in 2004, the company expanded its walnut operations to Griffith in the Riverina irrigation district of NSW and established a 250 hectare orchard on behalf of private investor, Motspur Park Pty Ltd. The next year Webster entered into a Heads of Agreement with Gunns Limited to establish walnut orchards using funds raised by Gunns via the Managed Investment Schemes. From 2006 to 2009, 1,365 hectares were established and maintained by Walnuts Australia, Webster's walnut operating division, on two properties (Tabbita and Leeton) on behalf of Gunns Limited.
In October 2007, Webster sold both industrial businesses to focus on its horticulture and aquaculture interests, being Field Fresh, Walnuts Australia and its strategic interest in Tassal Group Ltd.
In late 2010, Webster sold its shares in Tassal and used the funds generated to acquire the Gunns' walnut assets in the Riverina. Webster is Australia's and the southern hemisphere's largest walnut grower through its ownership and/or management of more than 2,200ha of orchards in Tasmania and the Riverina in NSW. Walnuts Australia also has a grafted walnut tree nursery at Forth on Tasmania's North-West Coast.
Today, the Company has an enviable reputation as Australia's largest onion grower and exporter, and is rapidly becoming known as a reliable, high quality producer and exporter of in-shell walnuts.
Webster sees its major marketing advantage as being a reliable producer of safe food products backed by stringent quality and traceability systems and produced in the counter season to the major markets in the world across the northern hemisphere.
Jul 23 | ASX WBA
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