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Australia

Foreign ownership might be up, but farms are still mostly Australian

By RJ Whitehead , 26-Jun-2014

Foreign ownership might be up, but farms are still mostly Australian

With foreign investment in Australian agriculture being among the most heated political issues in the country at the moment, new figures released by the Australia Bureau of Statistics might come as a surprise to many.

The bureau’s latest report, taken from figures researched in 2013, shows that local farm businesses and farmland remain overwhelmingly Australian-owned, with foreign ownership of representing only just over 10% of agricultural land available. At the same time, around 99% of the country’s farm businesses are owned by Australians.

"Our 2013 survey found that while there has been an increase in the area of farmland owned by businesses with some level of foreign investment, by far the majority remains Australian owned," said Bruce Hockman from the ABS.

Economies of scale

Large businesses account for the majority of foreign-owned farmland in Australia, with less than 50 companies accounting for 95% of the total area of foreign-owned land. 

"Of the 400m hectares of agricultural land in Australia, nearly 50m hectares had some level of foreign ownership; this is up by around 5m hectares, an increase of 11% on the 2010 result,” Hockman added, referring to the last ABS land and water ownership survey.

Victoria has the lowest proportion of agricultural land owned by businesses with foreign ownership, with only 2%, or 238,000 hectares. 

Conversely, Northern Territory has the highest proportion, with 32%, or 17.7m hectares of agricultural land owned by businesses with a degree of foreign ownership.

A year ago, there were an estimated 806 agricultural businesses in Australia with a level of foreign ownership. Together, these represented less than 1% of all agricultural businesses, which was a similar proportion to 2010.

Of the states and territories, Tasmania had the lowest level of foreign ownership, at 0.4%. The Northern Territory once again had most foreign involvement, with 3.5% of its businesses reporting a level of overseas ownership.

The majority of agricultural land owned by foreign-owned businesses was used for the sheep, beef cattle and grain farming industries.

Water entitlements

The volume of water entitlements owned by businesses with a level of foreign ownership increased from 1.2m megalitres in 2010 to 1.8m megalitres a year ago, representing 14% of all reported water entitlements in Australia in 2013—an increase from 9% in 2010.

"Water entitlements for farm businesses with some level of overseas ownership increased significantly, with most of this increase happening in Queensland,” said Hockman.

Water entitlements totalled more than 13m megalitres in 2013, with more than 11m megalitres being wholly Australian owned, and nearly 2m megalitres going to those with some level of foreign ownership—a figure that is up 55% on 2010.

The largest increase in the volume of water entitlements owned by overseas businesses was seen in the “other crop” category, which includes cotton and other broadacre crops, and represented over half of all the water entitlements owned by businesses with a level of foreign ownership in 2013. 

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