Locals resume control of farm

By Laurel Stowell

A Waitotara farm bought first by one of the Crafars and then by "a Chinese lady" is now back in New Zealand hands.

It's 160ha that reaches from the Waitotara River up on to flats on the Waverley side of the river, with a house and dairy shed.

Bill Butler, now living in Wanganui, sold the farm in 2005 to one of the Crafar family. He said after that it had a manager who first used the land to milk a dairy herd, then used it for dairy grazing.

Other farms owned by the Crafar family have been subject to prosecutions for pollution and poor animal welfare, but there were none in relation to this one.

The farm was then sold, allegedly to May Wang and Jack Chen, the controversial Chinese pair who bought it and three other Crafar farms without permission from the Overseas Investment Office. They are rumoured to have paid $3 million for it.

They are still subject to an investigation by Hong Kong's Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) over that and other deals.

In their ownership, the farm was left in limbo for a period, with stock grazing and some supervision. During that time two Waverley farmers had stock there and noticed it was a better farm than they had thought and that it was very handy.

One of them was at an auction last November, where the property was to have been sold. "The day of the auction the agent stood up and said, 'I'm sorry, the auction is cancelled'. That didn't go down very well with prospective buyers."

The farmer, who does not want to be named, formed a partnership with two others and contacted real estate agent Bayleys to ask if the place was for sale. The partners were told it was, and bought it for less than $3 million.

"We didn't even know who we bought it off. Our solicitor dealt with a solicitor in Auckland. I understand that they were dealing with somebody in Hong Kong," the new buyer said.

The three were cautious about the sale. "No money changed hands until we had clear title."

The property is now owned by Riverview Holdings 2012 Ltd.

One shareholder said he personally had no problem with Chinese people owning land in New Zealand, especially if it was managed for them by New Zealanders.

"It was just a straight-out business deal from our point of view. It was a good farm, the price wasn't completely unreasonable and we are neighbours."

The new owners aim to use the farm to fatten bull beef. One of them said there wasn't enough land for a large dairy herd. Its water systems need work but they think it will be worthwhile.

"I believe the farm has not been farmed to its full capacity for quite some time. It's been badly under-utilised."

- Wanganui Chronicle

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