Eastern Wheatbelt grain and sheep farmer John Nicoletti. (Photo: Rueben Hale/Countryman)
Saudi Agricultural Livestock Investment Company in $70m deal to buy John Nicoletti’s Wheatbelt farms
by Jenne Brammer
A Saudi Arabian investment firm has emerged as the likely buyer of Australia’s biggest single parcel of broadacre farming land, based in the Wheatbelt.
The sale of John Nicoletti’s land is still to be approved by the Foreign Investment Review Board, and involves 200,000 hectares of freehold and leasehold land over 30 separate farms, mostly around Merredin and Southern Cross, for more than $70 million.
The buyers, UK-based Saudi Agricultural Livestock Investment Company, is owned by a public investment fund in Saudi Arabia.
If approved, the sale would mark the first time Saudi Arabia has invested in Australian agriculture. It plans to use the property for broadacre grain cropping.
The SALIC management team was in WA this week looking for further land to build its portfolio, and has viewed properties at Esperance.
SALIC has also been viewing WA abattoirs, but it is not believed to be the Middle East company which is buying a portfolio of five abattoirs put together by Iranian businessman Mahmoud Parastesh of the International Meat Co.
In 2018 SALIC spent 250 million euro acquiring the majority of the Mriya Group’s Ukraine farming assets.
The portfolio being sold by Mr Nicoletti, in a sale led by CBRE head of agribusiness Danny Thomas, comprises more than 30 original farms at locations including Merredin, Bodallin, Moorine Rock, Westonia, Southern Cross, Mukinbudin, Bullfinch and Marvel Loch, plus Daisy Downs at Mullewa.
The properties included more than 76,000ha of freehold land as well as the assignment of more than 127,000ha of leasehold land.
Four years ago, after a string of bad seasons led to high debts, Mr Nicoletti sold 70,000ha, the biggest single offering of freehold land in WA history, to Hong Kong-based Chinese interest CK Life Sciences for $36 million, under a deal also brokered by Mr Thomas.
A 10-year lease-back agreement for that land was inked between CK Life Sciences and Mr Nicoletti, and the remaining seven years part of the leasehold portion.
That deal took seven months to be approved by FIRB.
Mr Nicoletti, 65, said last May when the property was listed that the time was right for him to exit farming, but he was not retiring.
He plans to put more effort into his string of John Deere dealerships throughout the Wheatbelt.