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Embattled Wellard chief to sell the farm in bid to raise $100m

Brad ThompsonThe West Australian
Mauro Balzarini.
Camera IconMauro Balzarini. Credit: The West Australian

The embattled head of Wellard is trying to sell his privately owned farms and associated assets in WA in the hope of raising at least $100 million.

Properties owned by Mauro Balzarini’s WGH Holdings are being shopped around to some of WA’s biggest farming families and foreign investors who already own vast tracts of the Wheatbelt.

Mr Balzarini declined to comment on the sale process, which would leave WGH with virtually no assets apart from a 36.6 per cent stake in Wellard.

Wellard is suspended from trading on the Australian Securities Exchange as shareholders brace for a third profit warning in the nine months since its float on the back of a $298.9 million initial public offering.

WGH received about $144 million when its livestock export and abattoir operations were spun off as part of the float.

WGH and Wellard operate from the same offices in Fremantle.

The WGH farms cover 37,800ha and are operated through subsidiary company Giovi Ltd, which is named after Mr Balzarini’s wife.

The farms form grain and livestock production hubs at Dongara, Watheroo and Kojonup. It is understood WGH has tried to sell the farming business as a going concern, the farms as a package or separately.

A big overseas investor in WA farmland is working on a deal to buy Watheroo for more than $20 million. The Watheroo farms comprise 13,350ha and are set up for grain production.

WGH paid $40 million for The Grange near Dongara in 2010 and has expanded the farming hub to cover 16,620ha. The Grange is used for sheep, cattle and crop production.

The Kojonup farms, made up of 7830ha used for grain and sheep production, are tipped to sell for more than $30 million.

The farm sell-off by Mr Balzarini, who is Wellard’s chief executive and its biggest shareholder through WGH, comes as he prepares to part ways with another key lieutenant.

Wellard executive Harold Sealy has quit to take up a new job and will also step down as chairman of the WA Livestock Exporters Association.

Mr Sealy was general manager of Wellard’s operations in the Middle East and is credited with opening up live sheep sales into China via air freight.

Mr Sealy’s resignation follows that of rural export division chief executive Fred Troncone in June last year.

Wellard was due to come out of a trading halt this week but asked the ASX for a suspension, which could stay in place until Monday.

Wellard shares were 40¢ when it went into the trading halt on August 5, down from a high of $1.45 on December 11.

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