Fairfax NZ News | 16/09/2013
US investors snap up large Canterbury farm
A massive farm the size of Christchurch has been sold to a North American investment group.The undisclosed price was believed by industry sources to be about $30 million.
Mt Pember station in the Lees Valley, about 85 kilometres northwest of the city, is among New Zealand's largest farms at 27,242 hectares.
It was sold by John and Bernice Ramsey, who also own Waikato meat-processing business Crusader Meats and have other farming interests in the North Island.
The farm is an amalgamation of seven runs and stations - Mt Pember, Wharfedale, Kingsdown, De Bourbles, Island Hills, Snowdale and Okuku Hills.
The new owner is a New Zealand-registered North American company called Lees Valley Station, whose directors are three attorneys in Connecticut and South Dakota.
Behind them is understood to be experienced American farm investors who have promised to commit significant funds to develop the property, running it as a New Zealand arm of their existing operations.
Approval for the sale was given by the Overseas Investment Office (OIO) for the company to buy the property and about 30,000 livestock.
The deal drew fire from NZ First leader Winston Peters, who said the office had again betrayed New Zealanders.
"The best way to destroy a nation and its people is to take away their land. History has proved this over and over again, " Peters said.
About 3 to 4 per cent of rural pastoral land is foreign owned.
Federated Farmers president Bruce Wills said overseas investment was necessary and beneficial because of $51 billion of rural debt in New Zealand, but farmers would prefer farms re- mained in the hands of good farmers.
The balance was about right as farm sales went through vigorous OIO analysis, he said.
"We do have a love affair with debt and we are not good savers and, because of that, we rely on foreign investment.
"I would have to say in an ideal world our preference would be for Mt Pember to be sold to keen, competent Kiwi farmers, but . . . with a farm that big it would have to be somebody in a very strong financial position."
The farm will be managed by Grasslands NZ, a farm management and consulting company and will continue to be run as grazing operation, chiefly for dairy support, sheep, and beef.
Just over half of the property group is leasehold and it extends from developed flats to 8000ha above 900 metres.
Bayleys Canterbury agent Ben Turner said the domestic market was tested first before the owners accepted the overseas offer.
Marketing details list the capital value in 2010 at $22.4m, including about $4m of improvements.
The farm as it stands was created by LandCo Farming and includes 11 houses, five shearing sheds and many hay barns and storage sheds.