Australia New bank loan to beef business linked to meeting targets on emissions and animal welfare
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The amount of interest paid on a bank loan by a Queensland beef business will be charged according to how it reduces greenhouse gases, meets animal welfare targets, and provides a safe workplace for its staff.
In what Commonwealth Bank claims is a first for Australian agriculture, the Stockyard Group has taken out a 'sustainability linked loan' that could see it save tens of thousands of dollars for meeting certain social responsibilities.
The specifics of the deal are confidential but it is expected the family-operated Stockyard Group will be charged lower interest on the three-year loan if it can meet targets set across five metrics covering greenhouse gas emissions, animal welfare, and workplace health and safety.
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Metrics will be audited
Stockyard Group, which runs a 20,000-head cattle feedlot on the Darling Downs and exports branded beef to 20 countries, said it was approached by Commonwealth Bank about the prospect of the sustainability loan and then worked with the bank to agree on the metrics to be audited by independent third-party Ernst & Young.
Stockyard Group's managing director Lachie Hart said he hoped the audits would eventually become publicly available.
"We want to be very clear to our customers and our community that we are trying to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030," Mr Hart said.
"It's tens of thousands of dollars for us each year if we meet those [bank loan sustainability] targets, or it's tens of thousands of dollars if we don't and we have to pay extra.
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"It's a substantial amount of money for our family-owned operation, it is certainly a strong incentive for us to meet these targets."
"But being the first agriculture company in Australia to have these loans linked to sustainability, hopefully it will promote to the broader industry and the agricultural sector these innovative approaches that our banks and people funding us with capital are looking to help us achieve these sustainability outcomes."
Mr Hart said irrespective of the loan, Stockyard Group had aligned with the livestock-industry-wide target of carbon neutrality by 2030.
"It's our responsibility that we hand our business on to the next generation in a much better position," he said.
"The real outcomes here are that our land, our environment, our communities, our people are going to be much better off if we start targeting these outcomes and goals we're trying to achieve."
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Mr Hart said if Stockyard were penalised, Commonwealth Bank would contribute the funds into an industry-endorsed research project in sustainability that would benefit the broader industry.
Commonwealth Bank's head of agribusiness Grant Cairns said the sustainability-linked loan was driven by customer interest.
"It has been driven by customers … deeply curious and committed to being more sustainable," Mr Cairns said.
"Certainly our customers, number one, are very interested in this. Shareholders are interested in this. Our institutional investors are interested in this.
"I think the community is interested in a more sustainable future as well. There are many stakeholders interested in the future of sustainability."
More expected to follow
Mr Cairns expected more Australian farmers and agriculture businesses would look to take up similar initiatives.
"Farmers are always looking at how can I be more efficient, more productive, look after my land even more sustainably. I think all of these things are on the mind, so I think there will be increased demand for these types of products and innovations in the future," he said.
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Asked if farmers who did not meet sustainability metrics should be concerned about losing access to lending, Mr Cairns said Commonwealth Bank was "absolutely, deeply committed to the sector and providing capital to the sector that it is going to need to continue to grow and be successful".
The loan announcement comes as Queensland farm lobby group AgForce took aim at against banks.
Its chief executive Mike Guerin took to Twitter this week to say: "financial institutions have a job to do — acting as a lawmaker is not one of them".
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