Andrew Heathcote Rich Lists editor

Andrew is BRW's Rich lists editor and is responsible for the Rich 200 and Young Rich flagship issues. He also reports on matters relating to wealth and investment for BRW and The Australian Financial Review.

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Why Rich 200 farmer John Kahlbetzer is leaving the land

Published 17 April 2013 12:08, Updated 18 April 2013 07:32

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Why Rich 200 farmer John Kahlbetzer is leaving the land

The Kahlbetzers have held large tracts of agricultural land in Australia since the 1970s, but the family could be about to walk away from farming. Photo: Kate Blundy

Rich 200 members are by nature a conservative lot. They invest for the long-term and are happy to sit back and let less experienced investors destroy wealth by frantically trading during periods of economic instability.

So when a Rich 200 member starts exiting an industry they have been in for over 40 years, others should take note.

In recent years, John Kahlbetzer has been progressively selling down his farmland to invest in mining and property development.

Buenos Aires-based Kahlbetzer has held large parcels of Australian agricultural land since the 1970s. More recently, his sons Johnny and Markus have largely run the business on behalf of their 82-year-old father.

In 2009, the Kahlbetzers sold $303 million of water entitlements to the federal government in one of the biggest deals of its type ever recorded.

Since then they are also believed to have sold more than $200 million of rural land in New South Wales including the Collymongle cattle grazing property for an estimated $40 million.

Some of that money has been put towards the family’s acquisition of Quicksmart Homes, a modular accommodation company.

Quicksmart was set-up in 2007 and has already undertaken several big projects including a hospital wing. There are plans to build up to 500 homes in the next 12 months and to become one of the country’s biggest home builders within five years.

They are also major shareholders of ASX-listed UCL Resources, which is ramping up its efforts to mine phosphate in Namibia.

In another sign that could be construed as bad news for the local agricultural sector, the Kahlbetzers have also set-up a new venture, Tywnam Agriculture Africa, to grow cops in Sudan, among other things.

In 2013, many rural prices are down. Local cattle farmers are struggling to find ways to grow their businesses and many cattle farms sit on the market unable to find buyers. Cattle prices are down at least 20 per cent in the first three months of 2013.

Kahlbetzer is unlikely to have reaped as much from his asset sales had he waited until now to start selling.

The rich excel at picking trends and knowing when to act. When they do, it is well worth paying attention.

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