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Farmers buy back land earmarked for controversial coal mine in northern NSW food bowl

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Rich agricultural land owned by Chinese mining giant Shenhua has been bought back by local farmers in the northern NSW food bowl.

The deal has been struck after the NSW government paid the company $100 million to stop its plans for a coal mine last year.

More than 16,000 hectares near Gunnedah had been owned by Shenhua for 10 years and is now being handed back to 12 local farming families and one corporate body in a $120 million sale.

Liverpool Plains farmer and president of the National Farmers Federation, Fiona Simson, said it was a refreshing end to a decade of uncertainty.

"To have it back now in local hands, to have family farmers again owning that land in a sustainable way that we know is going to be able to ensure the future of future generations of farmers ... that's extremely satisfying," she said.

"I'm really excited that this community is now able to put these battles and this angst and this really festering issue to one side.

"This is a chapter that I think the community will be really keen to close and to move onto the next chapter, with a huge amount of positivity and optimism for the future."

Ms. Simson had worked on the campaign to stop the open-cut coal mine since its plans were initially drawn up.

She said Liverpool Plains was one of the most unique farming precincts in the country and, as a farmer, it was rewarding to see the area free of mining.

"Not only does it have an amazingly temperate climate where we can grow both Summer and Winter crops and any type of livestock you can imagine, but we also have an amazing underground water system, of sustainable high-quality water," Ms. Simson said.

"We have some of the deepest, rarest black soils in the world, so it's an incredibly special place for agriculture nationally, and the Liverpool Plains farmers are really also intrinsically linked to their landscape."

The new owners plan to fill the land with sheep, cattle, and crop production.

A Shenhua spokesperson said it was "pleasing" to see the land back in the hands of local farmers.

"Given these properties will now be retained for farming instead of being used for a coal mine, we are delighted that (real estate group) CBRE has been able to work with local families to give them a real opportunity to purchase a significant portion of the land," they said.

The corporate entity involved in the deal has bought roughly one-third of the land, and said it wants to remain anonymous until a Foreign Investment Review Board approval process has wound up.

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