Wellard chief Mauro Balzarini sells last part of WA farmland empire

Rueben HaleThe West Australian

Wellard founder and managing director Mauro Balzarini has offloaded the last piece of his WA farmlands empire with the sale of The Grange, a 16,500ha blue-ribbon grazing and grain property in Dongara for $32 million.

The businessman has taken a multimillion-dollar hit on the sale, having bought the property for $40 million in 2010.

The newly formed buyer Viridis Ag, which has three directors from large-scale cropping company Lawson Grains and former NAB Agribusiness chief Michael Carroll on its board, has chosen to remain tight-lipped over the purchase.

The sale leaves Mr Balzarini’s farmlands company Giovi with no property assets, after selling its Watheroo farms for $15 million and its Kojonup farms for about $26 million last year.

Mr Balzarini had hoped to realise more than $100 million for the farms and associated assets, including machinery, about 23,000ha of crops for harvest later this year, 2400 cattle and more than 60,000 sheep. The properties were put on the market about 18 months ago after Wellard’s disastrous start to life as a publicly listed company on the Australian Securities Exchange.

Mr Balzarini received cash and shares from the December 2015 float, which raised almost $300 million from investors.

But the shares were smashed by a series of profit downgrades by Wellard within months of its listing.

At last disclosure, Mr Balzarini retained 80 million shares worth $14 million at yesterday’s closing price of 17.5¢.

The Viridis Ag purchase is likely to mean The Grange will move from predominantly livestock to cropping.

Lawson Grains and now also Viridis Ag director Sean O’Reilly, who kickstarted and led a Macquarie Bank-backed five-year buying spree in grain-growing properties in NSW and WA, has developed the Lawson Grains business as a serious, big-scale player.

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