Debt takes toll on Nicoletti grain empire
John Nicoletti . Picture: Danella Bevis/Countryman

Debt levels are taking a toll on John Nicoletti's grain-growing empire, with the high-profile farmer putting one of his most valuable properties up for sale.

Mr Nicoletti said yesterday that he had reluctantly listed his Daisy Downs property near Mullewa through Landmark to reduce debt. WA's biggest grain grower said he had no plans to sell other farms but admitted he was being "beaten around the backside" by his banks.

"We are definitely not selling other farms at this point. If I sell this one, well and good. If I don't, my banks are saying they are going to support me again and there are no problems there but I will feel happier with a reduced debt," he said.

Mr Nicoletti said the high Australian dollar and a run of tough seasons in WA had put farmers big and small under pressure. "It doesn't matter who you bank with," he said.

"All of the big four banks are sweating on customers who are doing it tough. But I'm a fighter and I will survive. As I've said before it will only take one good season to turn it around."

Mr Nicoletti said he planned to plant 56,000ha this year and could make $30 million based on a return of two tonnes per hectare, which would put a "big dent" in his overdraft. "We returned an average of 2.4t/ha in 2003 so that is well within our reach," he said.

Mr Nicoletti, who owns and leases more than 142,000ha across eight farms, said he had put the 28,500ha Daisy Downs property on the market because of buyer interest in the region.

He said at least one local buyer had shown interest in the farm because of its size, suitability for cropping and livestock, and relatively short distance from Geraldton port.

He had not put a price on Daisy Downs and intended to test the market.

Landmark Geraldton agent Jock Drummond said he sold 14 farms in the region in December, with all but one of the sales to local buyers.

Mr Drummond said he expected strong interest in Daisy Downs based on its size and location.

He said the December sales were recognition that the northern Wheatbelt rarely failed to deliver good harvests.

Mr Drummond said it was important to keep talk of gloom and doom in the rural real estate market in perspective.

"We had 63 properties on our books in 2008 and by 2009 we had cleared them, so that is how quickly it can turn around," he said.

I'm a fighter and I will survive. As I've said before it will only take one good season to turn it around. "

John Nicoletti

The West Australian

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