Saudi company eyes 500,000 acre farm in Australia

A Saudi-owned company that bought a share of the former Canadian Wheat Board is in negotiations to acquire a massive 500,000 acre farm in Western Australia, according to reports in the Australian media.

The West Australian, a newspaper based Perth, reported this week that the Saudi Agriculture and Livestock Investment Company (SALIC) is a front-runner in negotiations to buy a 500,000 acre farm owned by Western Australia’s largest broad-acre producer, John Nicoletti.

The C$66 million deal involves land that’s owned and leased by Nicoletti and requires the approval of Australia’s Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB), according to Australian newspaper reports dated Feb. 21.

News of the pending sale, which was publicized earlier in the week, prompted harsh criticisms from some Australian farmers who believe the landholdings should be retained by local owners.

According to Nicoletti, advertisements inviting local bids were placed in Australian newspapers for a period of 30 days, in accordance with FIRB requirements.

Not a single bid from potential Australian buyers was received, Nicoletti said.

SALIC is an agricultural investment company controlled by Saudi Arabia’s state-owned Public Investment Fund.

In 2015, SALIC struck a deal with American-based agribusiness Bunge Ltd., and formed a joint venture holding company named G3 Global Holdings.

G3 Global Holdings acquired a 50.1 percent stake in the assets of the former Canadian Wheat Board.

Western Canadian farmers retained a 49.9 percent share in CWB assets, which are now part of Canadian grain-handling company G3 Canada, based in Winnipeg.

In 2016, SALIC increased its stake in the joint venture with Bunge, boosting ownership in the G3 Global Holdings to 75 percent from 49 percent previously.

Saudi Arabia has been acquiring agricultural assets around the world and phasing out crop production efforts at home due to limited fresh water supplies.

In 2018, SALIC UK, a subsidiary of SALIC, acquired a majority stake in Mriya Group’s Ukraine farming assets at a reported cost C$375 million.

Mriya, located online at mriya.ua/en/, is the English parent company of one of the largest Ukrainian agricultural groups, farming more than 350,000 acres in six regions of Western Ukraine.

Nicoletti told the West Australian that if the pending land deal with SALIC gets FIRB approval, he will work for SALIC in a consultancy role for 12 to 18 months.

After that he will focus on running his string of John Deere equipment dealerships in the state of Western Australia.

Contact brian.cross@producer.com

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