EXPERIENCED agribusiness executive David Goodfellow has resigned from his position as head of Chinese-owned Rifa Salutary’s Australian operations to become chief executive of a new Australian subsidiary of Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan.
Ontario Teachers is Canada’s largest single-profession pension plan with C$180 billion in net assets, invested across a wide asset mix.
Mr Goodfellow will head the group’s newly-formed Australia subsidiary Auston Corporation, which plans to expand from its initial Australian investment base in tree crops into other forms of agriculture.
Mr Goodfellow had led Rifa Salutary since its establishment in Australia 2014, when it purchased 2500ha Victorian grazing property, Blackwood, near Penshurst. Another four showcase large-scale sheep and cattlegrazing properties properties were then added, including 4400ha Kulwin Park near Wycheproof in Western Victoria; 28,300ha Cooplacurripa near Nowendoc in Northern NSW; 9100ha Middlebrook near Nundle in Northern NSW, and 4600ha Ashleigh near Warialda in Northern NSW.
The five properties formed an integrated production-based supply chain comprising 22,000 Angus cattle, up to 22,000 sheep and 4000ha of broadacre cropping. The operation is protected from rainfall variability through its geographic spread of properties in Western Victorian and Northern NSW, with each property specialising in either breeding or fattening livestock but having the capability to do both if required.
Rifa chairman, Jie Wu said Mr Goodfellow had built the company from start-up, making ‘good choices’ in purchasing valuable properties for the company, as well as developing a strong management team.
“David has set a solid foundation for the continuing growth of the company,” Mr Wu said.
“Working to establish Rifa Salutary has been one of the great privileges of my career in this industry,” Mr Goodfellow said in a statement. “When I joined Rifa, I wanted to learn much more about the role of the Chinese in the future of our industry, and I have done that. I am grateful for the opportunity that was given to me and I am proud of the business our team has built over the last three and a half years for our parent company Zhejiang Rifa Holding Group.”
Rifa Salutary’s current chief financial officer Phil Beale, who spent some years in the equivalent role with the Australian Agricultural Co, will step in as Rifa’s interim chief executive.
Mr Beale had an extensive background with more than 30 years’ experience in senior roles within the agriculture industry, and was well-suited to lead the company until a replacement is appointed, Mr Wu said.
Mr Goodfellow’s move into the Ontario Teachers role aligns with his past work history in establishing large agri-businesses in Australia, having previously played lead roles in the creation of Mutual Trust for the Baillieu family, Paraway Pastoral Co for Macquarie Bank and then Rifa Salutary for Zhejiang Rifa Holding Group.
His role in Ontario Teachers will see him ‘significantly expand’ the fund’s investments in Australia over the next five years, as well as overseeing existing Australian investments.
About Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan
The Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan is Canada’s largest single-profession pension plan, with C$180 billion in net assets. The defined-benefit plan, which is fully funded, invests and administers the pensions of the province of Ontario’s 318,000 active and retired teachers. It holds a diverse global portfolio of assets, 80pc of which are managed in-house, and has earned an annualised gross rate of return of 10.1pc since the plan’s founding in 1990. The asset mix includes equities, debt, natural resources including agriculture, and real assets (real estate and infrastructure).
Ontario Teachers and its Australian subsidiary AustOn Corp, have already made significant investment in the Australian tree-cropping industry. In 2014, it bought Aroona Farms, a major grower of almonds at Robinvale (Vic) and Renmark (SA), comprising 1600ha of mature almonds (5000t/annum) and 840ha new trees being planted. The sale price was reported as around A$115 million.
In December the group completed the purchase of Australia’s second largest avocado grower, Jasper Farms at Busselton (WA) comprising 340ha avocados (7000t/annum). Financial press reported that sale as worth A$180 million.
The strategy of Ontario’s Australian subsidiary Auston Corp, is to expand the investment base into at least two additional agricultural sectors in Australia, which may include the livestock industry, broadacre cropping or other forms of horticulture. An investment in the extensive grazing industry has not been ruled out.
Less than 1pc by value of the fund’s investments are currently located in Australia.