Rifa Salutary, the Australian arm of China’s Zhejiang Rifa Holding Group, has purchased close to $50 million worth of farms in NSW and is looking to expand further.
While most of the big corporate money has been falling over itself to buy into Australia’s largest landowner, S. Kidman & Co, Rifa has quietly bought a total of seven properties in the last few months. The biggest is the former AMP-owned Cooplacurripa Station in northern NSW, with 5000 head of cattle, which sold for $32 million.
Rifa Salutary chief executive David Goodfellow confirmed the transactions and said Rifa was in the midst of a major property portfolio expansion.
“We are looking to build a portfolio of properties in Victoria to complement our existing property Blackwood, but also to build the portfolio in NSW and southern Queensland,” he said. “Cooplacurripa fits into this strategy.”
The company, whose parent Zhejiang Rifa owns major agricultural holdings in China, Brazil, Argentina and Kazakhstan, has also snapped up two riverfront properties – Kerriki and “Number One”, next to Cooplacurripa. These properties cover 1457 hectares and sold for about $3.5 million.
A further four properties at Warialda, east of Moree, have also been purchased for between $12 million and $14 million. These comprise Highland Plain, Avondale, Stonefield and part of Durkin, together covering 4050 hectares.
“We purchased these properties because they fit into our strategy to grow out and fatten cattle from Cooplacurripa, as well as several other properties we have in our sights,” Mr Goodfellow said.
Rifa already owns Blackwood station in Victoria’s Western District, where it has spent $1.2 million improving infrastructure. It is aiming to buy more properties where it can develop them.
Mr Goodfellow said smaller operators in Australia’s agricultural sector had long been seeking capital, and that Rifa’s strategy of buying lots of smaller holdings would help some farmers recapitalise.
“We think the new capital coming into the country is better placed to invest in these businesses, instead of just following the big corporate transactions,” he said.
“So far our model has been to own and operate properties, but we are not precluded from taking on partnerships.”
Mr Goodfellow, who was formerly Elders chief executive, also said that Rifa may look at feedlots and abattoirs, but is aware that supply shortages could bring some short-term pain to the sector.
Rifa’s strategy is to invest in Australia for the long haul. Buying the 22,548- hectare Cooplacurripa Station will give Rifa a strong footing to expand in prime agricultural areas.
Cooplacurripa was sold by Bydand Pastoral, founded by Michael Gordon, who made his fortune selling the Peppercorn network of childcare centres to ABC Learning in 2004.
Mr Gordon, whose wealth is estimated on the BRW Rich List at $347 million, has decided to wind down some of his more active investments.
“Everything we do is an investment, and it’s all about timing,” he said.
He said that while there would be a broader increase in rural land values, he was comfortable with where the Cooplacurripa transaction was struck. The land component of the deal is between $22 million and $24 million.
“I think the reality is that there will still be some value appreciation,” Mr Gordon said. “I think the big banks will start to back family farms again and that’s where the volume is – that’s where you get values rising.
“If you look at the trends in values, we have had a long period of stagnation but I think that is changing,” he said.