A record price for a New Zealand farm is expected to be set with the sale of the biggest rural property to come on the market in the North Island - Lochinver Station on the Rangitaiki Plains, 32km southeast of Taupo on the Napier-Taupo highway.
The 13,800ha property has been put up for tender by one of New Zealand's largest privately owned companies, Stevenson Group, which has owned it for more than half a century.
Lochinver has a capital valuation for rating purposes of $70.6 million, placing it at the top of the most highly valued stations in the country.
This means its sale price will far exceed the biggest farm transactions undertaken in the past five years, which include St James Station in Canterbury for $45 million, a rural Dipton property in Southland that sold for $33 million and Mt Pember Station in North Canterbury which sold recently for close to $30 million.
Lochinver is a sheep and beef breeding and finishing farm and dairy support station.
It has three airstrips, a lake, a recreational hunting block, 22 houses which accommodate the families of 20 permanent staff, a staff recreation centre, a school, 91km of well formed pumice roads, six cattle yards, three woolsheds and many other farm buildings.
The property is for sale by tender, closing on February 27, 2014, and is being marketed by Bayleys' managing director Mike Bayley, corporate rural salesman David Gubb, and Peter Stratton from Bayleys Taihape.
The station is made up of 10 titles over two distinct areas to the south and north of State Highway 5: Lochinver (10,812 ha) and Otamatea (3031 ha). Tenders can be lodged either for the whole property or individually for the two lots.
"In terms of land size, there have been larger farms sold in the South Island, but this would undoubtedly be the most productive freehold rural property ever put up for sale in New Zealand, with a carrying capacity in excess of 100,000 stock units," Bayley says.
"Lochinver is widely recognised as one of the most prestigious stations in the country because it has been meticulously developed and superbly maintained and managed. Given its size, value and further development potential, it represents an unprecedented, one-off opportunity to purchase an iconic and internationally renowned station."
Stevenson Group chief executive Mark Franklin says the company is rebalancing its investment portfolio and Lochinver Station is being put up for sale as part of that process.
"Lochinver Station no longer fits with Stevenson's future strategic direction which will be focused on the core businesses of mining, quarrying, concrete and associated investments around these industries."
The property was bought in 1958 by Sir William Stevenson, founder of Stevenson Group, after prompting from his son, Ross Stevenson, who had observed the property while hunting. Ross Stevenson embarked on a huge development programme to turn what was mostly scrubland at an average altitude of 780m into a large farm. Franklin says mining was a six-months-a-year industry in those days and the company's machinery was put to good use over the winter months breaking the land in. "It was a testament to Ross' vision, tenacity and innovative approach to projects that the land was transformed within a relatively short space of time into a very profitable farm. That has remained the case as a result of continuing development and improvements over the years."
Perendale sheep were introduced to the property and cattle were grazed for stock firms, which also helped build up fertility in the pumice. More than a million pine trees were planted in stands which doubled as shelterbelts, with some later used for the farm's timber requirements.
The pumice was also put to good use in the development of close to 100km of well-formed main roads on the station plus 40km of minor roads and tracks.
Waihora Romney rams, a Landcorp breed, were introduced in 2005 and Franklin says they proved highly successful, lifting lambing percentage to 140 per cent. Angus breeding cows are achieving about 90 per cent calving. These are mostly finished as 2-year-olds with heifers being about 260kg cwt (centum weight) and steers 340kg cwt.
Franklin says the station's favourable, predominantly easy contour, with more than 60 per cent of the farmed area relatively flat, has helped with its development and management.
"This provides flexibility for a variety of farming activities, including sheep and beef finishing, stud, deer, dairying and dairy support and will enable a new owner to maximise profit across several revenue streams.
"The property also usually experiences a very good spring with reliable summer and autumn growing conditions, illustrated during last summer's drought when we provided grazing support for other farms."
This year the farm wintered about 60,000 sheep, 3500 beef cattle, and 2300 dairy support cattle.
Franklin says carrying capacity is expected to increase to 120,000 stock units in the near future as a result of an extensive pasture renovation programme, further development of scrubland and recently returned leased land, as well as an irrigation project, which is just commencing.
Gubb says there are still opportunities for a new owner to add value despite the significant development undertaken by the Stevenson Group.
"There are areas of the farm that could be more intensively developed, alternative farming systems such as deer or dairy could be added and the tourism potential of the property is largely untapped."