Federated Farmers uneasy with Lochinver Station deal

William Rolleston.
William Rolleston.
Federated Farmers has expressed unease over the potential sale of the vast Lochinver Station to a high-profile Chinese company, saying it might not provide sufficient benefit to New Zealand.

The sale of the 13,843ha central North Island property to Shanghai Pengxin, which also owns the 8000ha Crafar family farms and has a controlling stake in SFL Holdings, which bought 4000ha of Canterbury farms from Synlait Farms, is subject to approval from the Overseas Investment Office.

While New Zealand needed foreign investment, it had to be of benefit to the local and national economy, Federated Farmers president Dr William Rolleston said.

''That is why a 'substantial and identifiable benefit' test was incorporated into the overseas investment decision tree, further bolstered in 2012 by a High Court decision adding a 'with and without' counterfactual test.

''This was to ensure any investment, such as the one being proposed, has benefit over and above just making a farm work better.

''Since Lochinver Station is highly regarded in farming circles, there must be something very special and we are keen to know what it is,'' Dr Rolleston said in a statement.

Given the location of Lochinver Station to Shanghai Pengxin's other landholdings, it would increase speculation that vertical integration by way of processing could be ''on the cards''.

In December, 2010, the Government tightened the rules around foreign ownership by way of an ''economic interests'' factor in the Overseas Investment Office's consideration.

That allowed ministers to consider whether New Zealand's economic interests were adequately ''safeguarded and promoted'' in the case of land aggregation or vertical integration.

Considering Lochinver Station was three times the land aggregation trigger level, let alone when added to the former Crafar farms, that would be a test of the OIO's rules, Dr Rolleston said.

The proposed sale again highlighted the need for research into what the extent of overseas investment in New Zealand farmland was, he said.

Stevenson Group, the concrete, quarrying and engineering firm that owns Lochinver Station, said it would reinvest the funds in other businesses.

Farming was not the company's core business and it was freeing up capital to invest in other businesses, such as expanding its Drury quarry, chief executive Mark Franklin said.

While Lochinver had a rateable value of more than $70 million, the purchase price had not been disclosed.

Both Conservative Party leader Colin Craig and New Zealand First leader Winston Peters have made it an election issue, while the Greens want restrictions on such sales.

Mr Peters said he would block the sale if he became part of the next government.

Labour's finance spokesman David Parker said sales of rural land to overseas buyers would be banned ''in all but the rarest of cases'', under a Labour Government.

- Additional reporting BusinessDesk

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