OIO assent to buy dairy farms

Windsor Dairies is one of two North Otago properties bought recently by farming company Craigmore...
Windsor Dairies is one of two North Otago properties bought recently by farming company Craigmore Farming. Photo by Sally Rae.
Large-scale farming business Craigmore Farming has received Overseas Investment Office approval to buy two large dairy farms in North Otago.

Both in the Waiareka Valley, inland from Oamaru, the properties are the 403ha Waiareka Farm, previously owned by North Otago Farm Ltd, and the 428ha Windsor Farm, previously owned by Windsor Dairies Ltd. OIO approval was required because of some overseas ownership. The purchase prices were confidential.

When approached for comment, Craigmore Farming chief executive Mark Cox said the company was ''very excited'' about the acquisitions.

It had an extensive development programme in place, including building another dairy shed, upgrading the existing irrigation infrastructure and native planting to assist with nutrient management.

The development programme would result in additional jobs and ''crucial'' investment during both the development phase and over the longer term, as a result of increased production, Mr Cox said.

The company had agreed with the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail to provide access across the properties for an extension to the public cycleway.

Craigmore Farming was established in 2008 by Mr Cox and his brother-in-law, Forbes Elworthy, and now has more than 13,000ha, comprising dairy, grazing and horticultural properties throughout New ZealandBrought up on Craigmore Station in South Canterbury and the son of prominent farming leader, the late Sir Peter Elworthy, Forbes Elworthy studied agricultural economics at Lincoln University, before going to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar for two years.

After time at Goldman Sachs he did an MBA at Harvard Business School before working as a credit trader at Merrill Lynch from 1992 to 1999, where he headed a convertibles trading desk.

He then founded financial software company Credit Market Analysis, which he sold to the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.

He returned to New Zealand from the United Kingdom in 2005 to manage Craigmore Station, returning with his family to live in Oxfordshire last year. He is chief investment officer of Craigmore Farming.

Mr Cox, who lives near Christchurch, also acts as general manager of Craigmore's horticultural businesses, which include squash and blackcurrant production. They operate under the Coxco brand, which he founded in 1996.

Among its interests, Craigmore Farming is a co-owner of Blue River Dairy in Southland, which produces sheep milk and processes it into cheeses and milk powder, and also owns a dairy farm at Ngapara in North Otago.

The company was proud of its track record in developing and managing farmland and its ability to bring together a mix of practical, strategic and analytical farming expertise, Mr Cox said.

''North Otago is a great farming region and we're very happy to be there for the long term,'' he said.

One of the key principles underpinning Craigmore Farming's operations was its belief that the best farmer was the owner-operator/family farmer.

It saw a need to reward high-performing managers and offered equity partnerships for ''top-quality'' managers, he said.

Last month, PGG Wrightson Real Estate's Otago regional manager Graeme Bezett said significant sales activity had been occurring in North Otago, the market responding forcefully to large-scale dairy farms taking water from the Waitaki irrigation schemes, and prices ranging from $30,000 to $50,000 per ha were indicated. In terms of land prices, the area, particularly in the North Otago downlands irrigation area, was closing in on the country's ''premium'' dairying localities.

- sally.rae@odt.co.nz

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