The Cibus funds, which specialise in sustainable food and agriculture investments, announced in a press release acquired a majority stake in a leading Australian vegetable seedlings business, Withcott Seedlings, through their Cibus Fund II LP.
Withcott Seedlings is a major producer and supplier of vegetable seedlings to both field and glasshouse growers across Eastern Australia. The company was founded over 40 years ago and is a significant player in the nursery space and a key agent in the Australian vegetable seedling market. Withcott Seedlings has the capacity to grow approximately 350 million seedlings a year across a broad range of vegetable seedling varieties.
Cibus Fund II and Withcott Seedlings will partner to enhance the use of automation technology and robotics to improve production efficiency. Significant aspects of a nursery’s activities can be automated through the use of robotics, including automatic seeding, sorting, grafting, monitoring, watering and feeding. The company has previously introduced ISO Robotics’ (a Cibus Fund I portfolio company) propagation robots to its operations and has already seen the improvements in product quality and efficiencies that automation can provide.
The new team will also target environmental planting projects to facilitate strong growth opportunities in the carbon offset plantings market as demand for environmental planting in Australia starts to escalate, driven by the underlying demand from upcoming carbon projects.
Withcott Seedlings’ business operations have a strong ESG focus which is consistent with Cibus’ investment philosophy. Initiatives by the company include the use of a site wide water recycling system and detailed waste management plans to reduce power consumption and waste.
This investment in Withcott Seedlings is Cibus Fund II’s first majority investment to date, with the fund targeting equity investments in mid-market food production and processing businesses. It has made six other minority investments in its late-stage venture allocation, via Cibus Enterprise Fund II LP.
Rob Appleby, CIO of The Cibus funds, said:
“We are excited to announce our first mid-market investment for Cibus Fund II. Withcott Seedlings is an exemplar in the field of vegetable propagation and has experienced positive change by embracing technology. Operational refinements and improved sustainability metrics made the company more resilient through the drought conditions of Australia and COVID-19. We are looking forward to partnering with the high-quality, experienced management team to take Withcott Seedlings to the next level.”
“At the Cibus funds, we partner with companies using innovative technology to disrupt food production, increase resource efficiency and ensure sustainability. We believe that the valuations of tomorrow will be higher for those companies with sustainability at their core.”
Mike Hindle, CEO of Withcott Seedlings, said
“This is an extremely exciting time for the Withcott Seedlings business and partnering with Cibus whose holistic vision for sustainable food production and technology, will propel this business to the next level. In addition, the prospects of producing very large-scale numbers of tree seedlings for carbon offset projects and forestry plantings fits perfectly with our business model.”
Rawdon Briggs, Head of Agribusiness Colliers, said
“The Withcott Seedlings founders and shareholders appointed Colliers Agribusiness, to complete a majority interest sale in an off-market process. The Colliers Agribusiness global data base and staged process engaged with 73 qualified groups, 17 of which passed into the early stages and virtual data room to complete initial due diligence. Colliers & Withcott Seedlings teams had over 120 questions asked and answered from the three short-listed bidders.”
“The proprietary process ensured a highly qualified and aligned preferred bidder closed and fulfil our clients’ original instructions during the COVID-19 pandemic years. Colliers Agribusiness wish to congratulate the Cibus Fund II LP team on this recent close of the Withcott Seedlings deal.”
The Cibus funds exist to channel capital towards companies that are charting the future of food using innovative technology to disrupt food production, increase resource efficiency and ensure sustainability.
The Cibus funds have raised USD 769m to date, investing globally across developed countries via two strategies: the private equity Cibus strategy predominantly invests in buyout and growth equity of mid-market companies and the Cibus Enterprise strategy predominantly invests in late-stage venture investments providing disruptive solutions within Agrifood Technology.
The Cibus funds are advised by a specialised and experienced team which is led by Robert Appleby, with over 20 years of direct international investment experience; Alastair Cooper, Head of Venture and former Head of European Derivatives at Morgan Stanley and Jason Silm, Head of Agriculture.