Are we about to see the end of the Bostock apple, veggie and chicken empire in Hawke’s Bay?
Have we witnessed ‘Peak Bostock’?
John Bostock has floated all his assets to prospective buyers and/or investors. Come one, come all teases his recent ad in HB Today … an offer obviously circulated through his investment advisor, Craigs Investment Partners, to much bigger players than Hawke’s Bay can muster.
The offer makes clear that the lucky investor can buy into any aspect of Bostock’s holdings – land interests, orchards, Bostock Chickens – in big gulps or a chicken wing at a time. One can buy assets outright or invest in shares to co-own with John (and his sons in the case of chickens).
Having built an amazing company that he owns 100%, the envy of many in his industry, why would he do this? And let me note John Bostock isn’t talking to media about this, so these are pure conjectures.
John Bostock did describe to BayBuzz just after the cyclone the extent of his losses from the disaster:
- 7% of orchards completely destroyed
- 30% of apple crop destroyed
- 50% of squash destroyed
- 80 % of onions destroyed
- 20% of maize crop destroyed
- 1 house ruined
- 100 hectares of cropping land unfarmable due to silt and logs.
- Tractors, hydraldders, pumps, flooded ,one centre pivot irrigator,sheds, and orchard equipment destroyed.
- Estimated net loss to company after insurance $30 million dollars.
Without question, major losses. That said, Bostock NZ is a company forecasting $200 million in revenue in the 2024 financial year and across all its operations in Hawke’s Bay grows stuff on nearly 3,000 hectares of farm land. Moreover, NBR’s ‘Rich List’ places Bostock’s wealth at $260 million.
One would think Bostock NZ could take a punch … even a heavy body blow like Cyclone Gabrielle. But that might depend upon his debt profile going into the storm.
So, Scenario 1 – business as usual
Yes, he would need to plough a heap of money into restoring production to pre-cyclone levels, a several year process for the orchards. As a shrewd businessman, however, John would rather risk other people’s money than his own.
So first, alongside other farmers and growers, he lobbied the Labour Government as hard as possible for cash relief after the cyclone. That cash didn’t materialise and is not likely to under a supposedly tight-fisted National Government. And a big corporate has a much easier path to raising funds than negotiating with Wellington bureaucrats over loan guarantees – place an ad, hire an investment firm, and let the money come to you.
This scenario assumes Bostock just wants to keep doing what he has been doing. Forge ahead. He just wants to reduce debt, share the risk and doesn’t really intend to lose control. He expects there are investors out in the wider world who don’t believe in climate change and haven’t heard of cyclones.
Scenario 2 – Peak Bostock … in Hawke’s Bay
But John Bostock has always been ahead of the curve. And he believes in science; he holds a BSc in chemistry. He knows he’ll see another Cyclone Gabrielle in Hawke’s Bay in his lifetime … maybe five years from now, maybe ten, maybe next year. He might ask: Is ‘recovery’ a fool’s errand? Will his assets actually diminish in value?
One might note that his ad, maybe for simplicity, mentions only Bostock’s Hawke’s Bay assets as being up for sale. To truly de-risk against future severe weather events, Bostock needs to grow outside Hawke’s Bay … and even outside New Zealand. And he’s already taken steps in that direction, with operations on the South Island and, I believe, in Chile.
Overseas expansion seems especially attractive – more land, cheaper production costs, no labour shortage and RSE woes, perhaps even closer to markets. He has a 17% share in Primary Collaboration NZ, which facilitates market access in China. Why not produce in China?
Add in the likelihood that a National Government will usher in GE production, and Bostock loses the competitive GE-Free advantage he’s always championed for New Zealand as an food exporter.
Time to lower exposure in Hawke’s Bay and use fresh capital to grow elsewhere.
Scenario 3 – Bail out of growing stuff altogether … retire
Don’t depend on good weather and Government regulatory and funding goodwill at all. Cash in. Maybe keep a hand in organic chicken … the sons have a good thing going. Indulge some other passion not so weather dependent, like breeding race horses!
Why speculate? What’s the significance of this?
It’s hard to imagine a more astute weathervane than John Bostock when it comes to looking ahead at the prospects of HB’s horticulture sector. If Bostock were doubling down on Hawke’s Bay, it would be a very noteworthy signal of confidence in the region. If he is pulling back or reallocating resources elsewhere, that’s a different signal. Or if juggernaut Bostock NZ is simply being pushed to the wall by banks, what does that say about the financial straits of HB’s small growers? Stay tuned.