A Chinese company has paid more than $29 million for prime agricultural land in WA's South East that was formerly owned by one of the State's biggest grain-growing families.

The purchase by the Heilongjiang Feng group comprised 23,336ha, including the Joyce family's Lake Varley property near Hyden.

The deal was finalised after a bitter dispute, which pitted the National Australia Bank and receiver McGrathNicol against Dennis Joyce and his family and family companies, including sons Ryan and Trystan and Connemara Holdings Pty Ltd, Quidor Pty Ltd and Neamer Pty Ltd. The dispute went all the way to the Supreme Court.

Heilongjiang's purchase continues a spending spree by Chinese interests in agricultural businesses across WA and on the east coast.

A Chinese-led consortium controversially purchased Australia's biggest cotton farm, Cubbie Station in south-west Queensland, in September and, closer to home, Chinese investors spent more than $15 million on an olive oil company formerly owned by two of WA's best-known business families - the Kailises and the D'Orsognas.

The Shanghai Zhongfu group is bidding for a big slice of the Ord Irrigation Scheme expansion and beverage billionaire Zong Quinghou visited Busselton two months ago as he considered a $200 million investment in dairy farms and a milk powder processing plant in the South West.

The demise of the Joyce family's farming business has left a number of rural firms in WA out of pocket, with McGrathNicol partner James Thackray confirming yesterday that unsecured creditors would receive no return from the sell-off of the Joyce properties, plant and equipment.

The Chinese purchase of Joyce properties followed last month's clearing sale for Connemara Holdings, which raised $4 million. The sale, conducted by Elders - another of the creditors - on behalf of McGrathNicol, was held over three days at Karlgarin and Lake Varley.

In June, the Supreme Court granted NAB a property seizure and delivery order against Dennis Joyce, his sons and the family companies as the bank and McGrathNicol tried to recover debts exceeding $70 million.

The court injunctions granted the bank access to 19 properties in Lake Grace, Newdegate, Varley and Karlgarin after the Joyces had refused access. Ryan and Trystan Joyce were ordered to vacate the properties after the court was told Ryan Joyce had threatened McGrathNicol staff.

It was alleged Ryan Joyce threatened Mr Thackray at the Varley property in May, warning him to leave or he would "go inside and get a baseball bat". It was also alleged that in a separate incident Ryan Joyce drove his car directly at Mr Thackray's car before swerving away at the last minute.

Justice James Edelman said the bank had been prevented from exercising its rights to possession, including by threats of violence.

The Joyce family is believed to have had more than 30,000ha of owned and leased land under crop last year after a big expansion last decade, but hit financial turmoil early this year.

In March, the bank put McGrathNicol in as receivers for Connemara and controllers for Quidor and Neamer under a series of loan and guarantee arrangements struck between 2008 and 2010.

The demise of the Joyce family's farming business has left a number of rural firms in WA out of pocket.

The West Australian

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