Iconic station diversifies into premium cherries

A portion of pastoral land on Central Otago's iconic Mt Pisa (pronounced "Py-sa") Station has been set aside for a $15.5 million cherry venture by New Zealand horticultural specialist, Hortinvest.

Mt Pisa Station manager Shane MacMillan said the family's sheep and beef business would invest in the project which would see 80 hectares of prime land produce premium quality cherries for export from 2021-2022.

Hortinvest is in the final stages of subscribing investors to two $15.5 million, 80-hectare projects in the Central Otago area. The other is at Lindis Peaks Station.

Mt Pisa Station has been in Mr MacMillan's family since his grandfather started farming merino sheep in 1924. The cherry project will be its first foray into horticulture.

"In farming, diversification is always a good thing, although you are sometimes limited by what you can do, depending on the nature of your land," Mr MacMillan said.

"This is a decision made by our family with the help of our advisory board over some time, and has been driven by many factors, such as the need for succession planning.

"Cherry orchards are grown all around us and we know cherries from Central Otago deliver high returns on the global market. From an agricultural perspective, producing a cherry crop in three to four years is a short timeframe.

"This type of diversification is not a decision we made lightly but we investigated it thoroughly and are excited about the future.

"There are other horticultural opportunities available to agriculturalists in New Zealand but Hortinvest's model is unique and it's hard to beat its depth of experience in cherries.

"There will be a period of adjustment and, from a farm management perspective, I will miss the land as this comes at a time of intense development which has included land clearing, pasture renewal and subdivision. The consequence of this has been an increase in stock numbers and production. However, in the long-term, various family members who live on the station will benefit from the cherry project," he said.

Mt Pisa Station owns 4,600 hectares in the region - all of which has access to the Clutha River via the Pisa Irrigation Scheme. The 80 hectares for the cherry project is currently used to graze sheep, fatten lambs and grow supplementary winter feed. The station's story was documented in The Mt Pisa Station Story by Nicola McCloy, published in 2016.

At the foot of the iconic Pisa Range, after which it is named, the site is gently sloping and perfectly suited to growing cherries, with free-draining soils.

"It tends not to lend itself to frost because it's on a terrace and cold air flows like water on either side," he said.

As a contingency, Hortinvest's project includes frost-fighting windmills.

Final negotiations with shareholders underway

Hortinvest orchard and project manager Ross Kirk said both projects were nearly fully subscribed, following widespread interest from a range of individual, corporate and foreign investors.

The expression of interest deadline for both projects closes on May 31.

"We extended the initial, self-imposed deadline to give investors more time to finalise their applications and, in that time, others came forward," Mr Kirk said.

"We're now working with several major corporate funds and a foreign investor. A commitment from these will ensure the projects are fully subscribed and can proceed to the next stage of development. We expect to finalise these by next week's deadline or early in June."

Lindis Peaks Station farmers Lucy Annan and Simon Maling have also committed to invest in the Lindis River project.

The minimum investment in each project is $100,000, spread over four years, with the first cash called for on June 30.

Mr Kirk said after May 31, Hortinvest would form management companies, draw tree maps, lay irrigation and prepare the land for planting 14,000 trees - the first of 106,000.

Committed to achieving maximum returns

Led by experienced horticulturalists, Ross and Sharon Kirk, Hortinvest's focus is on producing export-quality cherries and maximising returns to investors.

Hortinvest's business model offers a significant point of difference in that it sources land, establishes orchards and packhouses, exports and markets produce, retaining all services in-house.

Shareholders can invest for the long-term, trade shares via online exchange platform, Syndex, or leave after taking a capital gain early in the production phase.

The Hortinvest team has extensive experience exporting cherries to established and growing markets in Taiwan and China, and is developing new markets in India, Indonesia, Europe and the United States.

Investment return snapshot

IRR: 20.8-25 per cent first 10 years
ROI at peak mature production: 34-59 per cent
Returns based on 12, 15 and 18 tonnes per hectare
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Located in Central Otago, New Zealand, Hortinvest Ltd is the leading consultant in New Zealand's emerging and highly profitable cherry and horticulture industry. Hortinvest employs world-leading orchard management and packhouse systems to produce and export premium New Zealand cherries.

(Issued: May 24, 2019)

Issued by Aqua Public Relations on behalf of Hortinvest Ltd. For more information please contact:

Ross Kirk
Project and orchard development manager
Hortinvest
(02) 7484 5099

OR
Toni Lucke
Aqua Public Relations
+61 7 3312 2505

Email Toni>