Nicoletti ready for big crop after sale

30 Mar, 2016 01:00 AM
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WA's big man in cropping John Nicoletti, is planning another big crop this season after the Foreign Investment Review Board cleared his 68,000 hectare property sale and lease back arrangement.
WA's big man in cropping John Nicoletti, is planning another big crop this season after the Foreign Investment Review Board cleared his 68,000 hectare property sale and lease back arrangement.

ONCE WA's biggest grain grower, a reinvigorated John Nicoletti is ready to put "a big crop" in the ground again this season.

In three weeks he plans to be airseeding the Eastern Wheatbelt farms of the 68,000 hectare empire he is selling and leasing back for 10 years.

At age 62, Mr Nicoletti is planning to retire debt but has no plans to retire himself as one of WA's biggest grain producers.

After holding up the sale - said to be worth between $35 and $40 million - for almost six months, the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) last week gave its approval, clearing the way for a settlement.

Details have not been made public, but it is understood the buyer of the Nicoletti Group's five property aggregations and a grain silo cell at Merredin is Hong Kong-listed CK Life Sciences, part-owned by Hong Kong's richest man Li Ka-shing.

Mr Nicoletti and his real estate agent CBRE director of agribusiness Danny Thomas, were annoyed at the length of time the FIBR held up the sale and lease back arrangement when the purchaser was well known to it.

CK Life Sciences already has significant agriculture-based investments in Australia.

"We've been waiting on them for six months," Mr Nicoletti said on Thursday last week as he drove back to his Merredin base after inspecting properties and finalising plans for this season's crop.

"We started the process in October."

Mr Nicoletti said he had continued to plan his cropping program for the coming season irrespective of what the FIRB's decision would be.

"We are ready to go,'' he said.

"We will be seeding in three weeks.

"We're planning a big crop.

"It's looking very good, there's been rain and there's good subsoil moisture on the properties out through Bullfinch, Westonia, and Moorine Rock.

"We'll be concentrating on those."

He said the northern properties, particularly Daisy Downs near Mullewa, would not be cropped this year.

"There's been no rain up north,'' he said.

"We'll continue to run a few stock on those and I might look at sub-leasing those out."

Mr Nicoletti said he was hoping for another exceptional season in the Eastern Wheatbelt, like last season.

"We averaged 1.3 (tonnes per hectare) which is pretty good for that country,'' he said.

"It was certainly a lot better than the 500 to 600kg/ha we were getting the years before that.

While not discussing the sale details, Mr Nicoletti indicated the deal was moving to settlement quickly now it had cleared the FIBR hurdle.

He said while work had continued to prepare for the season, he had been worried not knowing how long the deal would be delayed.

"We had thought we would have to go back to the bank again to finance a big crop,'' Mr Nicoletti said.

"Now we won't have to."

Mr Nicoletti has said he will pay down debt owed to the ANZ Bank with proceeds from the sale.

"The bank has been very good, they have worked with me," he reiterated last week.

In previous years Mr Nicoletti's cropping program started on his northern properties and progressively moved south with the season and harvesting following an identical pattern.

After a string of poor harvests, Mr Nicoletti put his northern-most property Daisy Downs up for sale but it attracted little interest and he realised the price he would get on its own would not substantially reduce his debt.

The 68,000ha total of the broad-hectare grain operations he put up for sale is believed to be the largest single freehold land offering in WA's history.

It was divided into five geographic parcels.

At 27,538ha, Daisy Downs was the largest, advertised as having 10,000 arable hectares plus 7156ha of grazing land.

The Walgoolan (Westonia) aggregation was the largest of the Eastern Wheatbelt cropping operations at 21,948ha, with 20,450 arable hectares.

The Bullfinch property was 7305ha with 6500ha arable and Moorine Rock was 6523ha with 5625ha arable.

The fifth property was Lakeview at 4534ha with 3900ha arable, and there was also the Merredin silo cell on 2ha with 11,600 tonnes of grain storage capacity.

The properties were offered for sale via several options, including sale and leaseback, vacant possession for all or as separate assets, or on a walk-in, walk-out basis.

An expressions of interest period closed on April 1 last year.

Mr Nicoletti's other business interests include six John Deere dealerships through his Ag Implements company in Merredin, Northam, Cunderdin, Mukinbudin, Narembeen and Quairading.

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Mal Gill

Mal Gill

is wool and dairy writer for Farm Weekly

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