Hong Kong-based CK Life Sciences and West Australia’s John Nicoletti have come to an understanding, with CK Life agreeing to pay $24.4 million for Nicoletti’s 70,000 hectares of grain farms in the eastern wheatbelt in West Australia, according to The West Australian and Yahoo News. The deal, which is the largest single offering of freehold land in the history of the state, is still subject to approval from Australia’s Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB).
There have been over 100 inquiries about the sale of the property split almost 50/50 between foreign and domestic interest, according to CBRE Director, Danny Thomas who is handling the transaction.
The West Australian reports that until recently Mr. Nicoletti’s farming operation owned and leased a total of 140,000 hectares, but consecutive poor seasons left Mr. Nicoletti deeply in debt by 2013 and having difficulty obtaining financing to plant his next crop. The Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ) remained supportive however, keeping him in business.
"If they had pulled the plug on me back in 2013, it would have been disastrous for agriculture out here. It might have seen land values drop to 49 U.S. dollars a hectare,” said Mr. Nicoletti according to the Shanghai Daily. “This deal sets the land value at that close to 208 U.S. dollars per hectare."
Nicoletti, whose company saw a yield of 1.2 tons of wheat per hectare in the recently completed harvest, will continue to farm under a 10-year lease-back structure written into the deal, with the proceeds to be used to pay down his debt. “I have tremendous people around me and while they stay with me my job is easy,” he added.
This is not the first agricultural venture in Australia for CK Live Sciences. The company controls a majority stake in the Challenger Wine Trust which holds stakes in multiple vineyards, and owns Cheetham Salt, Amgrow, a farm products provider, and Accensi, a crop protection company.