IN LESS than a month, three large-scale signature holdings in the Riverina district of southern New South Wales have changed hands. Interestingly, two had been held by family owners for more than 100 years, and all three sold to neighbouring or Australian interests.
The Riverina boasts flat, fertile plains, a warm to hot climate and an ample supply of water for irrigation. It is this combination which has allowed the region to develop into one of the most productive and agriculturally diverse areas of Australia.
Just this week, the iconic 2024ha Cootamundra property, Ferndale, held by the Merrin family since 1869, sold to a local farming family. The property attracted interest from local, interstate and international buyers.
Miller and James Real Estate agent Angus McLaren said it was great to see Ferndale remain in local hands.
“Despite all the overseas interest, it was the local farmers who saw the best value in the property. People are optimistic about our industry and this is been reflected in recent property sales. The very strong interest has mainly been driven by local family farmers who are expanding their farming/grazing enterprises.”
Last week, the 16,200ha Riverina property Natue Station, regarded as some of the best country in the Hay district, was sold by the Robinson family after 130 years single ownership to Australian-raised, London-based businessman Anthony Crichton‐Brown.
And the 2169ha Berryjerry Station, one of the signature mixed farm landholdings in the eastern Riverina, was sold late last month by long-time owners the Mott family, to a local well-established grazing and farming entity.
Local family buyers active
Chris Meares from Meares & Associates said there is strong demand for farming and grazing country in good locations across the Riverina.
“It also confirms the current strength of Australian operators in the rural property market at present, with the buyer of the property being nearby neighbour, the Gnadbro Pastoral Company,” he said.
Tim Corcoran from Delta Rural Property Sales based in Wagga Wagga agrees, claiming that bigger farming families are the main players driving demand.
“Many corporates or foreign investors are looking in this part of the Riverina, but very few are buying. Local farming/grazing families are expanding into bigger holdings because money is cheap, debt levels are low and the season’s been good.”
Mr McLaren believes really successful local farming families are expanding their businesses in an effort to decrease their overhead costs. “They are trying to be as cost-efficient as possible, and economies of scale are still one of the best ways of achieving that,” he said.
Unfortunately, many farmers have been unable to expand because of a lack of available land in the Riverina.
Mr Corcoran said any river country is highly sought-after, but not a lot is changing hands. “The last decent river country Delta sold was a couple of years ago. In the Lockhart, land is tightly-held and if property comes up for sale, buyers are under intense pressure to buy,” he said.
Mr Corcoran said people are paying around $485ha for land in Urana, but five years ago that same land couldn’t be given away.
“It’s an area that wasn’t highly sought after, but farmers wanting to expand are now willing to pay good money for it.”
Sam Triggs from Inglis Rural Property agrees. “A significant change in the rural property market compared with the last five years is the interest from existing neighbours and landowners wishing to expand,” Mr Triggs said.
Strong interest in Riverina’s southern region
Landmark Harcourts Deniliquin agent James Sides said there was strong interest in the southern parts of the Riverina.
“Dry pastoral country is in enormous demand. In fact, I’d say it was at an all-time high. Anything that is lower-input is sought after. Over the past six to 12 months, there’s never been greater demand for a simple grazing operation with the potential to carry good livestock numbers, that’s not intensive in any way. There is massive interest from the corporate sector, as well as spirited competition from existing landholders in the Riverina and from buyers across NSW and Victoria,” Mr Sides said.
The price of dryland pastoral country within a 100km radius of Hay had risen 100 percent in just three years, he said.
“Demand is being fuelled by a number of factors, but number one is the security of agricultural assets. The agricultural sector is picking up where the mining sector dropped off, and commodity prices for protein are at an all-time high.”
Mr Sides said where the corporates are buying, the value of land had gone up exponentially.
“There is still room for a lot of capital growth in both land and water given supply and the corporate interest in water portfolios. There are enormous capital gains to be realised yet and prices are still strong – certainly in the protein sector you’ve got no signs of softening at all in the future.”
The corporates or multi-nationals had been buying the lion’s share of properties in this area.
Last year, Macquarie Bank’s Paraway Pastoral Co added two properties to its NSW Riverina holdings. It purchased the 31,267ha Ulonga Station, north of Hay, for around $12m and some months later paid more than $10 million for the 26,300ha Rosevale Station at Hay.
Inglis director Jamie Inglis said there was continued interest from investors seeking to secure two types of assets classes in the Riverina – low input grazing land, along with high input developed irrigation assets along with water entitlements.
“The introduction of cotton has undoubtedly put significant upward pressure on land and water, along with other groups chasing assets for permanent plantings including walnuts and almonds,” he said.
Interestingly, Tim Corcoran still has grazing properties and livestock operations available for sale in the high rainfall, eastern Riverina region.
“They are left over from last year’s spring. People in this area want more versatility. It is the arable, mixed farming and pure cropping country that sells. Pure grazing places are more difficult to shift here, which is strange given that commodity prices are so good.”
Mr Triggs said interest had been phenomenal during the marketing of the 2573ha Riverina property Deltroit Station.
“We have received 70 enquiries, including strong overseas interest from the United States, the UK, China and Hong Kong, along with several domestic investors.”
In the meantime, the agency has been engaged to secure a 30,000 to 40,000 DSE grazing property in the Riverina for an existing Australian landowner looking to expand.