Nicoletti looks to offload farmland

Nicoletti looks to offload farmland


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WA's biggest grain grower John Nicoletti is positioning himself to sell up to 81,000 hectares.

WA's biggest grain grower John Nicoletti is positioning himself to sell up to 81,000 hectares.

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WA'S biggest grain grower, John Nicoletti, is positioning himself to sell up to 81,000 hectares of his 142,000ha (owned and leased) landholding in a potential deal that could fetch tens of millions of dollars.

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WA'S biggest grain grower, John Nicoletti, is positioning himself to sell up to 81,000 hectares of his 142,000ha (owned and leased) landholding in a potential deal that could fetch tens of millions of dollars.

Like a number of large scale grain enterprises recently sold in WA, including the highly publicised string of Joyce properties near Lake King in the eastern Wheatbelt, the bulk of Mr Nicoletti's hectares are expected to be snapped up by Beijing-based buyers looking to create secure food supply chains for China.

Mr Nicoletti is best known as the State's largest grain grower, whose investments include the owning and running of four substantially sized farms at Bullfinch, Moorine Rock, Westonia and Mullewa, as well as a leased broadacre property at Marvel Loch and three more in the Esperance region.

But according to Mr Nicoletti, it could all be up for sale for the right price.

When Farm Weekly spoke with him at the start of the week, Mr Nicoletti confirmed the potential sales but due to a number of signed confidentiality clauses, couldn't name the interested buyers.

"We are in initial talks with various people at the moment including a Chinese company and the Qatar Government," he said.

"And a number of them are very keen."

Mr Nicoletti also confirmed it was him who had actively sought to sell off his farms in the face of the State's rural debt crisis.

"Whether something will definitely come of our talks is yet to be seen but there's just not enough money in the farming game anymore," he said.

"Politicians and big businesses in this country are more than happy to place a higher value on motor cars and luxury items than food.

"People are quite happy to pay exorbitant prices for fancy jewellery but refuse to do the same thing for one of life's very few necessities - food."

Mr Nicoletti pointed to the iron ore industry as an example.

"The price of iron ore has again sky-rocketed in the last month," he said.

"And by comparison sheep prices have come down by about $50 a head."

In 2012/13 Mr Nicoletti ran 35,000 sheep and planted 53,000ha of crop across his eight WA farms.

"I'm happy to get rid of the lot and retire," Mr Nicoletti said.

"I've entered these negotiations still demonstrating a return on capital, which nobody talks about anymore."

But there was no denying a severe lack of water due to unpredictable winter and spring weather patterns had Mr Nicoletti facing financial pressure like the majority of the State's grain growers.

"Australia is an export country," he said.

"We're a manufacturer and producer of fine food when we have the water.

"It's little wonder so many eastern Wheatbelt growers have their backs against the wall.

"Unfortunately, sometimes we don't get enough rainfall to grow a lot of grain but when we do, especially in marginal country, it's of very good quality and it still gives us a pretty good return on investment."

After listening to local rural media commentary over a number of years and speaking with a range of potential sale agents Mr Nicoletti realised just how serious the Chinese were in their bid to secure WA farmland and decided to "put up his hand" for a bite of the action.

"I can't rely on my 73 or 74 neighbours to buy me out because I don't think they could," he said.

"We're all in the same boat.

"They're subject to the same input costs and unreliable weather as me."

Mr Nicoletti told Farm Weekly he was confident the potential investment by a foreign entity into such a large WA landholding could only be a good thing.

But he did wonder how the potential buyer would manage its staff.

"What happens with the leased country will depend on what kind of role the buying company wants me to play in the future I guess," Mr Nicoletti said.

"I'm not ruling out some type of hands-on involvement in the deal down the line.

"Knowing my luck, the new buyer will have 10 brilliant seasons and say, I don't know what that Nicoletti bloke was whingeing about."

Although it was tipped a Chinese entity would more than likely snap up the land offering, the Qatar Government had also taken part in serious and ongoing discussions with the Nicoletti family.

In April last year Qatar-based company, Hassad Food, purchased 15,000ha at Jerramungup to bring its total Australian landholding to 200,000ha.

But without a foreign ownership register, it was extremely difficult to find out how much WA land was in fact owned by Chinese or Middle East property and agricultural entities.

The story Nicoletti looks to offload farmland first appeared on Farm Online.

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