Tens of millions of hectares of Australian farmland owned by overseas interests 

TENS of millions of hectares of Australian farmland are owned by overseas interests, a Weekly Times investigation has found.
China made the biggest investment, with deals worth $2.5 billion, followed by the US with $1 billion in the foreign investment review 2014 – 2015 
The Foreign Investment Review Board’s 2014-15 annual report, released this month, shows applications for overseas investment in Australia’s agriculture, fisheries and forestry industries totalled $5.3 billion, up from $3.4 billion in 2013-14 and a five-year annual average of $3.3 billion.
An analysis of documented farmland ownership shows that a growing list of nationalities, including China, the US, UK, Greece, Canada, Argen­tina, Switzerland, Italy, Qatar, Philippines, Sing­apore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Germany, have invested heavily in Australian farms in recent years.
The revelation comes as the prop­osed $370.7 million sale of Australian pastoral giant S Kidman & Co to a China-backed consortium thrusts the controversial issue of foreign ownership of farms back into the national political spotlight.
Treasurer Scott Morrison last week announced an independent review of the proposed Kidman sale and its 11 million hectares in NSW, Queensland, South Australia and the Northern Territory, to China-backed Dakang Australia.
Dakang’s biggest shareholder is Shanghai Pengxin Group, whose stand-alone bid for Kidman was last year knocked back by Mr Morrison on grounds of national security. There have been significant sales of farms to foreign interests already this year.
In February, the Government approved the $280 million sale of the Van Diemen’s Land Company — Austral­ia’s largest dairy farm at 17,000ha — to Chinese firm Moon Lake Investments.
US teacher superannuation fund TIAA-CREF and its subsidiary, Westchester Group of Australia, this month paid a rep­orted $35 million for three properties totalling 5000ha and 7500 megalitres of water licences at Goondiwindi, on the Queensland-NSW border.
TIAA-CREF and Westchester are believed to have snapped up farms worth an estimated $1 billion since 2007.
China’s Union Agriculture has been active recently, paying $11 million for the 5260ha Kyabra Station at Tamworth to add to its NSW portfolio, which includes Bobbara Stat­ion at Galong and Mt Falcon Station at Tooma.
Macquarie Bank’s Paraway Pastoral Company and Lawsons Grain — which both have foreign money in their funds — have a combined 2.8 million hectares or 28,000sq km: roughly the same size of the US state of Massachusetts. Paraway finalised its $15 million deal for the Beckworth Court property near Ballarat this year, having added the 31,267ha Ulonga and 26,300ha Rosevale stations to its NSW Riverina holdings last year.
The latest figures on foreign farm ownership, released in 2014, show 11 per cent of Australia’s agriculture land was foreign owned.
The Foreign Investment Review Board’s 2014-15 annual report, released this month, shows applications for overseas investment in Australia’s agriculture, fisheries and forestry industries totalled $5.3 billion, up from $3.4 billion in 2013-14 and a five-year annual average of $3.3 billion.
China made the biggest investment, with deals worth $2.5 billion, followed by the US with $1 billion.
Victorian Farmers Federation vice president David Joch­inke said he was “def­initely a supporter of foreign investment being a part of the mix” in Australian agriculture.
“Sometimes we get tripped up on the word ‘foreign’ … and it really detracts from the real game of agriculture or what agriculture needs.”
Alan Bowman, chairman of Australian superannuation fund Prime Super, which has investments in listed agriculture companies such as GrainCorp and Wesfarmers, said that the issue of foreign investment in farmland was an “age-old debate”.
“We’ve always had it … but generally speaking to grow this country we need external investment in every field.”
Inglis rural property sales manager Sam Triggs said a “relatively weak” Australian dollar, which was yesterday trading at US77c, down from a peak of US110c five years ago, was making “Australian rural property a competitive asset class globally”.
He said interest in the 2573ha Deltroit Station at Wagga Wagga in NSW, being offered by the Australian Pastoral Company, had come from domestic parties as well as Asia, Europe and the US.
In announcing the Kidman review, Scott Morrison extended the approval deadline for the sale from 30 days to 90, meaning the decision will be delayed until after the July 2 federal election.
Independent Senator Nick Xenophon has opposed the sale and vowed to make farmland sales to foreigners a federal election issue while Nationals MP George Christensen said the Kidman properties “must remain Australian”.
The Federal Government last year reduced the scrutiny threshold for the sale of farmland to foreigners from $252 million to a cumulative $15 million and introduced a register of foreign owners.
A federal parliament cross-party committee this month recommended “greater transparency” of the register following the revelation it would not be made public.

http://www.weeklytimesnow.com.au/news/national/the-real-picture-of-foreign-ownership-of-australian-farms/news-story/0c5abf7560911750bf22004c96bfb55c

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