Farm empire born in business partnership

Farm empire born in business partnership

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The two have purchased several properties in northern Victoria.

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John Nicoletti.

John Nicoletti.

A HIGH profile Western Australian farmer and businessman and top rural real estate agent have joined forces to establish an Eastern States-based agriculture business.

John Nicoletti first dealt with CBRE Agribusiness director Danny Thomas when he sold some of his large scale broadacre farmland to Chinese-owned CK Life Sciences on a sale-and-leaseback deal about six years ago.

That sale followed with another to CK Life Sciences in 2016 and then a major deal to Saudi Agricultural and Livestock Investment Company in 2019.

Around the middle of last year, after the major sale of Mr Nicoletti's properties, the pair joined forces to establish Ulupna Pastoral Company and began buying farms in northern Victoria.

Prior to the partnership forming, Mr Thomas had purchased several properties in Victoria and New South Wales with his wife and some friends, as well as some solo investments.

Danny Thomas.

Danny Thomas.

"I had my foot on some more properties when John came to visit me after we sold his farms and he was interested in what I was doing, so the whole thing was a bit of an accident really," Mr Thomas said.

"He asked me 'how big could it be?' and I said 'well it's only limited by capital' and he had some of that because of the sale he achieved, so we are in a joint venture there.

"It's just a couple of mates mucking around really."

The two have acquired more than 4000 hectares so far, all within northern Victoria.

They have also purchased about 2500 cattle of mainly Angus joined with Wagyu.

Mr Thomas said the productivity of the country and versatility for mixed farming and various agricultural pursuits appealed to them.

"We like how productive that land is and it's very unusual that you can buy up all the neighbours in such a short period of time, which I think is what attracted John," he said.

"He did it out in the Eastern Wheatbelt which was a market that had lots of pressure and distress and this market has had lots of pressure and distress too because of what the dairy industry has gone through in northern Victoria and with the price of water etc.

"So there have been some people there that are second or third generations that don't want to own those farms anymore, so it was a good opportunity for us to consolidate land and create scale where there has been a lack of scale."

While Mr Thomas said "the plan is that there is no plan", they would be keen to purchase adjoining land if there was enough financial support from the bank.

"But if someone is a bit avaricious and it's not at market value, we have no burning desire to buy an unlimited number of properties; we will buy them as long as we think they're good value and we can afford them," he said.

With the farms being traditionally dairy country, Mr Thomas said the land use was extremely versatile, but they were yet to determine the use for all the properties.

"They have all historically been intensive dairy farms, so really if you can milk dairy cows on there, then you can do just about anything," he said.

Being close to large regional towns with high populations, such as Shepparton, Numurkah, Cobram and Echuca, also added appeal as there was already a "good, strong underlying base in the real estate values".

According to the 2019 Rural Bank Australian Farmland Values report, the northern Victoria rural market was up by 9.1 per cent on the previous year, with land values averaging $6,314 per hectare.

Mr Thomas said this partnership was solely just between him and Mr Nicoletti and was separate to either of their other agricultural investments.

It is also not related to his work with CBRE.

Previously Farm Weekly reported that Mr Nicoletti had been an active buyer in the WA market.

It's understood Mr Nicoletti's purchases in recent months total more than 30,137ha throughout Borden, Mt Walker, Hyden, Beacon and Beermullah.

Mr Nicoletti was contacted but declined to comment.

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