Ontario Teachers’ invests in four family-run orchards to create single 500 ha business

Orchard worker Francisco Hernandez reaches to pull honey crisp apples off the vine during a thinning of the trees at an orchard in Yakima, Washington, US, June 2020. (Photo: AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Global AgInvesting | 27 April 2021
Ontario Teachers’ invests in four family-run orchards to create single 500 ha business
The Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan (OTPP), a global asset manager with more than $200 billion in assets under management, has made an undisclosed investment in four family-owned orchards in the Goulburn Valley in the state of Victoria, Australia. 
This investment, which is being conducted through Ontario Teachers’ Australian subsidiary AustOn Corporation, will bring together Oakmoor Orchards, run by the Varapodio family; Turnbull Brothers Orchards; Pickworth Orchards; and Chatswood Farm, run by the Hall family.
The newly merged entity, which will be called Pomona Valley, will include more than 500 hectares (1,235.5 acres) of orchards, water rights, two packing houses – OzPac run by the Varapodios family, and Integrity Fruit run by M J Hall and Sons – and additional land in Ardmona, Tatura, Mooroopna, and Toolamba.
Since the deal involves an overseas investor, if approval for the deal is granted by Australia’s Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) it will result in one of the largest fruit growers in Australia. 
“It’s probably in the top 10 of horticultural fruit-growing businesses in Australia,” Peter Hall of Chatswood Farm told ABC, adding, “The world is a big place and it needs a large company to take advantage.”
Ontario Teachers’ is also already the owner of the largest private apple orchard in the U.S., having acquired Broetje Orchards in 2019 – a vertically integrated apple operation spanning more than 6,000 acres and shipping nearly 7 million boxes of apples per year.
At the time, Pav Jordan, senior manager, OTPP said, “Broetje Orchards is a strong strategic fit for our natural resources portfolio, providing a large-scale asset with direct exposure to a staple component of the food basket.” And the same could be said for Pomona Valley in Australia. 
For Pomona Valley, exports will play a key role in the business model, according to Hall.
Australia’s apple and pear industry has more than 500 commercial growers, and was worth $513 million in the 2018/19 year, according to APAL. However, it exports only about 1-2 percent of its apples produced, indicating a window of opportunity for Pomona Valley to increase those volumes. 
“We’ve been working on this for about three years,” said Hall. “We think it’s a great mix of high-quality, high-class orchards with some patient money from a co-investment with the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan.”
Plans are in place for the newly merged company to begin operations on July 1 of this year with Rock Varapodio at the helm in the role of general manager. Once running, Varapodio noted that the capital from the AustOn investment will enable the scaled-up operation to continue to grow, and could be used to advance crop protection, to integrate new technologies, or in support of factors such as hail netting.
Indeed, the scale alone of the new operation will enable it to capitalize upon opportunities presented in other horticultural categories such as pears, cherries, and stone fruit, as well as in apples, across both domestic and export markets. 
“It’s about having scale for those export opportunities,” said Varapodio. “But it’s also about being able to service domestic markets a lot better with good, long lines of supply.”
“We’re very excited about this,” Varapodio told Country News. “This is about growth and looking to the future.”
Original source: GAI

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