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Current as of 21/11/14 07:40PM NZST

Christopher Adams

The Business Herald’s markets and banking reporter.

Crafar dairy farms deal finally settled

China's Shanghai Pengxin takes ownership of 16 farms after years of political and legal challenges.

The sale started a debate on foreign ownership of NZ farmland. Photo / David White
The sale started a debate on foreign ownership of NZ farmland. Photo / David White

Following almost two years of legal and political challenges, China's Shanghai Pengxin finally settled its purchase of the 16 Crafar Farms yesterday.

The Supreme Court last month threw out an appeal by Maori trusts that had been negotiating to buy two of the farms, which were considered ancestral land, clearing the way for the settlement.

The Chinese company is believed to have paid just over $200 million for all 16 North Island farms.

In a statement Shanghai Pengxin said the properties had been purchased in the name of a subsidiary, Pengxin New Zealand Farm Group.

The farms would be managed by a joint venture, Pengxin New Zealand Farm Management, a 50/50 partnership with Government-owned Landcorp.

Shanghai Pengxin said the farms totalled almost 8000ha and carried 16,000 cows.

"The company is committed to investing $15.7 million in the next three years to upgrade the properties and increase milk production, which will initially be sold to Fonterra."

Shanghai Pengxin said it intended to eventually process milk taken off the farms into a range of consumer products to be marketed in China.

On a visit to New Zealand last month, Shanghai Pengxin chief executive Lei Jiang said the firm was in talks with several partners, including Fonterra, about setting up a dairy processing plant in the Bay of Plenty near the farms.

Speaking to the Business Herald at that time, Lei said he would not rule out the possibility of the company buying more New Zealand dairy land to fuel its exports to China.

The firm had no "concrete plans" to buy additional farmland at present but would want more milk from this country in the future, he said.

Controversy over the sale of the Crafar Farms divided opinion in New Zealand and brought foreign land ownership to the forefront of national debate.

The first bid for the properties by Hong Kong company Natural Dairy and its sister firm, New Zealand-based UBNZ Asset Holdings, had its Overseas Investment Office application declined in 2010 because its directors and frontwoman May Wang failed a good character test.

Shanghai Pengxin, the next firm to place a bid, successfully fought off a counter-bid from a group led by Sir Michael Fay, which included some iwi farming interests.

Meanwhile, the statement released last night also said Top Harbour Ltd - a real estate development firm part-owned by Zhaobai Jiang, Shanghai Pengxin's billionaire chairman - had this week settled the purchase of 31ha at Gulf Harbour, Whangaparaoa, on which it planned to build 1000 houses over the next eight to 10 years.

- NZ Herald

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