Ata Rangi Pastoral, a large-scale central North Island dairying venture which aimed to show how sustainable, pasture-based production was done, has turned sour, with the last properties sold last week under the auction hammer.
Ata Rangi Pastoral was registered in 2015, to establish, by conversion, five dairy units and one dry-stock, or dairy support, farm on a swathe of forested land north of Taupo, stretching from Whakamaru to Tokoroa.
Founding shareholders New Zealanders Brent Cook and Ged Donald were reported at the time to be aiming to be the standard-bearer for sustainable, pasture-based production in New Zealand. The pair returned the land to New Zealand ownership, purchasing it from a US investment fund.
The venture, which has been under BNZ Bank asset management, ended last week with the sale by auction of three of the farms.
Another farm, called Mangakino, was sold about a year ago for $14m, and a 612.7ha property named Atiamuri, settled last month. The 541 hectare dairy support property, known as Wainui, has been sold with settlement under way.
Property Brokers' Brian Peacocke, who co-handled the sales, said last week the 593.1ha Tokoroa Downs farm had sold for $15.17 million; Twin Lakes (482.8ha) for $9.7m, and Whakamaru (494ha) for $11.54m.
Tokoroa Downs was bought by Trinity Lands, a large-scale dairy and kiwifruit production company, headed by new Fonterra chairman and former Zespri chairman Peter McBride.
Another farm buyer is understood to be the North Island's Ferris family company, whose shareholders include former Ata Rangi chief executive Stephen Veitch.
The sale prices of Wainui and Atiamuri were confidential.
All the properties were bought by different entities, Peacocke said.
Companies Office records show Ata Rangi Pastoral is wholly-owned by Brent Cook, a global finance industry businessman based in Sydney. He is understood to have bought his first New Zealand dairy farm, at Oamaru, in 2013.
He has been approached for comment.
Ged Donald, a dairy farmer and developer, is understood to have been bought out of Ata Rangi by Cook in late 2016.
Herald inquiries suggest the venture was a casualty of a combination of factors, including a high cost capital structure as global commodity milk prices plunged between 2015 and 2017, unprofitable milk production and more recently, rising environmental compliance and water costs.
The former forestry land would have required high levels of fertiliser.
Cook is understood to have been involved in an unsuccessful bid led by New Zealand businessman Sir Michael Fay to buy the failed Crafar dairy farming estate. The 22-farm estate was New Zealand's biggest family-owned dairy farming business and was put into receivership in 2009. After a tortuous receivership and sale process it was eventually bought in 2015 by a Chinese company.
The Herald has learned Cook and Donald bought the land that would become the Ata Rangi farming group in 2014 for around $35m - before new water management rules were introduced.
Cook owned 65 per cent of the venture and Donald the balance.
Over 18 months the partnership cleared from forestry around 3300ha of land and converted it to dairying farms.
Herald inquiries suggest the conversion project, which included building five milking operations and 20 staff houses, cost around $40m.