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OTPP backs new horticulture venture in Australia’s Goulburn Valley

OTPP’s AustOn will manage the new entity, known as Pomona Valley, with input from the current owners of the orchards.

Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan has backed a partnership between four family-owned orchards in Australia’s Goulburn Valley, creating a new entity that will be managed by AustOn Corporation, its Australian agriculture arm.

The partnership, to be known as Pomona Valley, will own and manage 500ha of orchards growing apples, pears, cherries and stone fruit, along with two packing operations, OzPac Australia and Integrity Fruit.

Pomona Valley will come into effect on July 1, led by general manager Rocky Varapodio, the owner of Oakmoor Orchards at Ardmona, one of the four orchards in Victoria joining the partnership.

The other three orchards involved in the tie-up are: Turnbull Brothers Orchards, run by Chris and Alex Turnbull, at Ardmona; Chatswood Farm, run by Peter and Shane Hall, at Toolamba; and Pickworth Orchards, run by Stuart Pickworth, at Tatura.

The majority of the four farming families will retain an equity stake in the partnership, OTPP said in a statement, as well as continuing to hold leadership roles to help manage the business.

OTPP did not disclose the amount it has invested in the partnership, or details around the equity stakes of the families. The deal is subject to approval by the Foreign Investment Review Board.

In a statement, AustOn Corporation CEO Tim Lee said: “This partnership is in line with AustOn’s existing investments and our vision to empower local farmers to build strong, sustainable and successful agriculture businesses over the long term.”

AustOn has operated in Australia since 2018 and has invested in Aroona Farms, which produces almonds in South Australia and Victoria, and Jasper Farms, which produces avocadoes in Western Australia.

Lee joined as CEO in July 2020 after more than three years as part of PwC’s food and agribusiness team. He replaced David Goodfellow in the role, who left in late 2019 to set up his own funds management venture before joining CBRE as head of agribusiness this year.