ONE of Victoria’s biggest farms has been sold to US investors in a surprise deal believed to be worth $50 million.
The historic 6,880ha Banongill Station near Skipton owned by former VFL footballer and retirement village owner Stewart Gull and his wife Sue has been sold to an American superannuation fund.
While the price tag was not disclosed, The Weekly Times believes the value of such a large scale and productive livestock and cropping enterprise puts it in the $50 million range, making it possibly the most valuable single rural property transaction ever in Victoria.
The station was bought by Laguna Bay Agricultural Fund, the Australian investment vehicle set up earlier this year with the Washington State Investment Board as the main investor.
The board manages the superannuation funds of Washington public servants.
It is the first purchase of Australian agricultural assets by the $280 million fund with further acquisitions of high quality farm land expected here and in New Zealand.
The off-market sale was conducted by Colliers International’s National Director of Rural and Agribusiness, Shane McIntyre and has been approved by the Foreign Investment Review Board.
It represents a healthy return for Mr Gull who bought the station off the Lempriere family in 2006 for a price believed to be $20 million.
Mr McIntyre said Mr Gull has sold the property to concentrate on his other business interests.
Laguna Bay was looking for a high quality broadscale asset for their first investment and Banongill fitted the bill perfectly, Mr McIntyre said.
“Laguna Bay secured Banongill Station as they recognised it to be a ‘best in class’ rural property and while we can’t disclose it, the final price reflected the scale and quality of this unique asset,” Mr McIntyre said.
“In my almost four decades transacting Victoria’s prestige rural properties, the sale of Banongill Station is a standout and reflects heightened confidence in primary production from national and international interests.”
It has been sold on a walk-in, walk-out basis with 30,000 sheep, 2,400 Angus cattle, all station plant and equipment, and 1,500ha of winter cereal crops.
The Banongill Station homestead was established in 1853, originally an outpost of Borriyalook Station, which was owned by pastoralist and philanthropist Francis Ormond, founder of Ormond College. Part of Borriyalook was separated from the home station in the 1850s and renamed Banongill.
The Gulls have made significant changes over the past 10 years, including installing 50km of laneways, renewing the stockyards, upgrading water systems and pasture, building dams and installing silos and bores, grain and fertiliser sheds and a fully equipped workshop.
“When we bought Banongill, the wool market was very depressed, so we thought it was important to have diversity and in particular, a stronger focus on cropping,” Mr Gull said.
“In our first year here, the only revenue was the wool cheque, we have created a balance of wool, fat lambs, beef and cereals.
“We have continually tweaked each of the areas in search of improvements, including the genetics of our sheep and cattle.
“We believe we are leaving behind a strong foundation that will continue to improve. Importantly, the property offers a strong water supply.
“Mount Emu Creek flows all year and there are very reliable springs and bores on the property,” Mr Gull said.
Laguna Bay have indicated they will preserve the station’s iconic status and further improve its productivity.
“Banongill Station, not least for the scale of its operations and the quality of its infrastructure, is one of the best holdings of its type in the Western District of Victoria,” Tim McGavin, co-founder and CEO of Laguna Bay, said.
“We are excited by the opportunity to further enhance the strong foundation created by the Gull family, further developing the property with innovative cropping systems and intensive pasture management.
“We are keen to ensure that Banongill continues to make a strong contribution to the innovative farming community of Western Victoria, through active participation and hosting research and development programs that enhance farming practices.”