THE sale of one of southern Australia's largest dairy properties, once estimated to be worth more than $30 million, has come under fire from potential investors, agents and the original owners.
Pedra Branca Dairying, a 1229-hectare farm with up to 2000 cows at Mount Schank, Mount Gambier in South Australia, is still looking for a buyer 12 months after being put in receivership by National Australia Bank. The receiver is PPB Advisory.
"We are very unhappy with the way the bank and receivers have handled the sale," a former senior Elders Real Estate agent handing the sale, claimed.
"We could never get the bank to come back to us with a price. There were never any specific counter-offers made. People want to know a price were never told – it was most unusual."
The agent, one of four senior salesmen on the deal, has left the company and would not be named. Elders is no longer handling the account.
Last year's combination of rock-bottom farm gate prices and soaring production costs pushed several other operators to the brink in the billion-dollar dairy farm industry.
Owners of other properties placed into administration are also bitter about the way their businesses were taken from them and the huge costs racked up in their sale.
Bank inaction 'devastating'
Jason Doman, the fourth generation owner of Pedra that has been expanded over three properties, says he and his family have been devastated by the lack of communication from the bank.
There were no verbal or written warnings, mediation or default notices alerting him to the financial peril, or ways of working out of administration.
"I'm drawing on any savings I had, living on the smell of an oily rag and doing everything I can to achieve a positive outcome for everyone," he said.
Mr Doman is also increasingly concerned about administrator fees and the expense of having an external manager run the property. He says only 1000 cows are being milked.
PPB Advisory did not respond to The Australian Financial Review's queries.
A leading investor wanting to buy the property, and who wished to remain anonymous, said he was "frustrated and bewildered" by the bank and receiver's lack of information and communication over several bids.
"They have no idea of agriculture and no sensitivity to the plight of second and third-generation farmers that have a deep love and understanding of their properties and would be the best people left to run the properties in any circumstances," he said.
A NAB spokesman said bank had more than 150 years of agricultural banking experience.
"We are committed to supporting good quality agribusinesses and assess all lending on a case-by-case basis," he said. "We encourage customers to contact us sooner rather than later if they run into difficulties, so we can work with them to assist and potentially solve issues."
Owners of other dairy properties forced into administration by a mix of rising costs and falling prices have also criticised the costs, delays and administration of banks and administrators.
"Their head offices have no experience of farming and seasonal problems that can arise with cash flow," said the owner of an 800-cow dairy farm near Colac, in Victoria, that is also under administration.