Foreign interests own around 4.6% or 2.5 million hectares of agricultural land in NSW and the ACT, according to the 2017-2018 Register of Foreign Ownership of Agricultural Land. This compares to 13.4% nationally – where the United Kingdom tops the foreign ownership charts, followed by China and then the US.
- 85% of foreign-owned land is held for livestock purposes.
- Sources: Register of Foreign Ownership of Agricultural Land 2018 and Register of Foreign Ownership of Water Entitlements 2018, Australian Taxation Office, Foreign Investment Review Board Annual Report 2017–18
- 9.4% of the Murray Darling Basin’s water entitlements have a level of foreign interest ownership.
Surprisingly perhaps, in terms of value, Canada took the lead nationally as the largest foreign investor in Australian agriculture last year, displacing China. Canadian investment was largely driven by pension funds. Canada was followed in 2017-18 by China and the United States, and then by Dutch and UK investors.
Sources: Register of Foreign Ownership of Agricultural Land 2018, Australian Taxation Office, Foreign Investment Review Board Annual Report 2017–18.
In total, 201 foreign interests received approval from the Foreign Investment Review Board to spend $7.9 billion on agriculture, fisheries and forestry assets in Australia – up from $7 billion in 2015/16. Approval is only required if purchases exceed $15 million.
Philip Jarvis, managing director of agricultural investment adviser Direct Agriculture, says that Canadians and Americans are by far our largest foreign investors, and that Chinese interest is waning.
This year Rifa Salutary, the Australian arm of China’s Zhejiang Rifa Holding Group, began offloading its entire portfolio of 14 rural properties, totalling 44,000ha, which it had amassed since 2014. This includes three large properties in NSW: Cooplacurripa Station near Gloucester, Ashleigh Station near Moree, and Middlebrook Station near Tamworth.
“Over the past four years we have seen probably the greatest influx of Chinese capital into Australian agriculture we have ever seen and it’s retreating,” says Philip. “If there is a washout of Chinese capital, you are going to see the Saudis and Emiratis come into Australia. It’s just the ebb and flow of capital.”
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