Rural Equities (REL) will likely sign up to the Ruataniwha Water Storage Scheme.

"We have three properties in the zone and at this stage it looks like we have got in excess of 500ha we can irrigate," executive chairman David Cushing said.

"We are working on water contracts at the moment and I understand they need to be all in by November. We are carrying on with our due diligence - it is looking pretty promising."

REL owns 25 properties throughout New Zealand. Ten are directly managed and the remaining leased. Seven of the managed farms are dairy but not in the Ruataniwha zone, where it plans to use irrigation to develop mixed cropping and livestock programmes.


REL recently purchased shares in the Barrhill Chertsey Irrigation Scheme for two of its Canterbury properties.

Reduced dairy prices saw a fall in revenue for the year. The group's total comprehensive income for the June 2015 year was $9.5 million, less than half the previous year's $24 million.

The previous year was boosted by farm revaluations, which were reduced in 2015.

Operating earnings before interest and tax was $4.67 million, down from $6.43 million in 2014.

Dairy income nearly halved, from $8.40/kg of milk solids to $4.40 in the year. The drop in group income was offset by tripled earnings from its Waikato Puketotara property enjoying strong beef prices.

"It had a record year which was a nice counter to the very soft dairy prices," Mr Cushing said. REL supplies both Synlait and Fonterra and expected dairy prices to "materially improve" by the end of 2016 as world supply lessened and Fonterra got smarter.

"If you look at the costs of our competitors we are very efficient. We are hurting, so imagine how the other guys are going. That is why you see protests in France, Ireland and England. It is inevitably going to lead to reduced supply."

Dairy farming was a good long-term investment, he said.


"We didn't think $8.40 [per kg milk solids] would last two years ago and we don't think $3.85 will last either - it will balance out in the middle somewhere."

REL sold its smallest property in the year, realising more than $900,000 from a $7million sale - 20 per cent above valuation.

A dairy conversion near Ashburton was successful and the company sold its stake in ASX-listed corporate grower Tandou, thanks to a share-swap takeover offer from ASX-listed Webster.

In the year REL reduced debt 36 per cent from $27.1 million to $17.25 million. The company was "lean and mean" with a "very strong" balance sheet but was set on maximising current properties unless "bargain basement" opportunities arose.

"The main focus is developing our existing farms. The Ruataniwha project could be really good for three of them, and Hawke's Bay," Mr Cushing said.

Hastings-based REL is majority-owned by the Cushing family and its shares traded on the unlisted market.