Sonoma County backs Fiera Comox ag fund with $125m

The Montreal-headquartered firm’s open-end vehicle has recently expanded into European tree fruit through its acquisition of a majority stake in Spanish apple, pear and cherry producer Orchard Fruit Company.

The Sonoma County Employees’ Retirement Association has committed $125 million to an open-end agricultural fund managed by Montreal-headquartered Fiera Comox.

At the August 25 meeting of its investment committee, SCERA approved a commitment to the Fiera Comox Global Agriculture Open-end fund. In May 2021, the $3.5 billion pension increased its target allocation for farmland from 5 percent to 8 percent to complement its existing investment in the UBS Agrivest Farmland Fund. SCERA declined to comment.

According to SCERA meeting materials on the fund provided to Agri Investor, Fiera’s ag fund focuses largely on farmland and has carried out 33 acquisitions through eight platform companies. It manages a total of 220,000 acres across four countries where its portfolio provides exposure to 14 agricultural commodities.

Performance figures, financial information and portfolio company names were removed from a Global Agriculture Fund annual report SCERA provided to Agri Investor. A March presentation before the Ryerson University Board of Governors identifies Fiera Comox’s US agricultural portfolio as including Washington-headquartered tree fruit producer Auvil Fruit Company and Vermont maple syrup provider Sweet Tree Holdings along with California fruit producer Warmerdam Fruit and Lessen Land, a vertically-integrated almond producer also headquartered in California.

In Australia, Fiera’s investments have included row crop focused Excel Farms, dairy producer Rangitata and Eastern Agriculture Australia, which grows cotton, according to the March presentation.

The Fiera Comox ag portfolio included in the Ryerson University presentation also includes Spanish apple, pear and cherry grower Orchard Fruit Company, which is also a packer and exporter. The annual report provided by SCERA describes a December 2021 acquisition of a majority stake in a grower-packer-shipper of apples pears and cherries based in Spain’s Aragon region. It outlines a company with land and a diverse portfolio of water rights owned by a long-term operator that is now Fiera Comox’s equity partner.

“Due to the company’s overleveraged capital structure, Fiera Comox has the opportunity to invest in [redacted] at a meaningful discount to fair value, creating an asymmetric upside return profile,” according to the annual report. “Tree fruit operations in Spain are highly fragmented. Most orchards are family owned and operated and are typically only a few dozens of acres. This provides for plenty of consolidation opportunities for the company.”

An update on US land markets within Fiera’s annual report noted an uptick in farmland values in Vermont after years of single-digit growth. The report also described Fiera Comox’s plans for more acquisitions over the next five to 10 years in that state to increase production by a company it described as the world’s largest maple syrup producer.

Among information redacted from the report provided by SCERA is the name of a hybrid fruit variety produced by a vertically integrated tree fruit business based in the San Joaquin Valley of California, in which Fiera Comox has acquired a majority stake. In late 2020, investment banking firm Harrison Co. announced it had advised Warmerdam Packing on its strategic investment from Fiera Comox. Warmerdam Packing is headquartered in Hanford, California and produces kiwis, cherries, plums and proprietary hybrid variety Verry Cherry Plum.

Fiera Comox manages $2.5 billion across private equity, private credit and agriculture, with the ag unit accounting for $1.3 billion, according to a late August statement. The parent Fiera Capital Corporation manages $156.7 billion on trades on the Toronto Stock Exchange.