Almost 99 percent of Australian farm businesses are fully Australian owned, while just under 90pc cent of farmland is fully Australian owned, according to figures released on Friday by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. These figures are comparable with a similar survey carried out in 2010.
The ABS’s 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 remained entirely in Australian hands.
The survey also confirmed that large businesses continue to account for the majority of foreign-owned farm and grazing land, with less than 50 businesses accounting for 95pc of the total area of foreign-owned farm land in Australia.
Of the 400 million hectares of agricultural land in Australia, nearly 50 million ha had some level of foreign ownership. This figure is up by around 5 million ha, an increase of 11pc on the 2010 result.
Worth considering, however, is the impact that a small number of very large landholders, with minority foreign ownership, can have on the statistics.
Two good examples are the Australian Agricultural Co and the North Australian Pastoral Co. In combination, the two account for about 14 million hectares of land alone, or close to 30 percent of the national total attributed to some degree of foreign ownership. In NAPCo’s case, foreign equity (UK-based) accounts for only 34pc of the company’s ownership, and has done for decades. A reliable estimate suggests the AA Co share register – despite the large shareholdings of UK billionaire Joe Lewis, and India’s IFFCo and Felda, still carries less than 50 percent foreign control.
The data for the ABS survey were collected in the Agricultural Land and Water Ownership Survey (ALWOS) conducted in late 2013, with respondents asked to report ownership status as at 30 June that year. More details on the construct of the survey appear at the base of this page.
Ownership of agricultural businesses
At 30 June 2013, there were an estimated 806 businesses nationally with agricultural holdings that reported a level of foreign ownership, ABS reported. These represented less than 1pc of all businesses with agricultural holdings, which was a similar proportion to 2010.
Of the businesses that reported a level of foreign ownership, nearly half reported they were more than 50pc foreign-owned.
Among the states and territories, Tasmanian agricultural businesses had the lowest level of offshore ownership, with 0.4pc reporting a level of foreign ownership. The Northern Territory had the highest level of foreign ownership, with 3.5pc of its businesses reporting a level of foreign ownership.
The proportion of businesses in each state and territory that were wholly Australian-owned is illustrated in the illustration published here. All map, graph and table images can be clicked-on to enlarge, or are accessible in a gallery in large format at the base of this page.
The majority of businesses with a level of foreign ownership were concentrated in the sheep, beef cattle and grain farming industries. These sectors contained 39pc of the businesses with a level of foreign ownership.
The fruit and nut growing industry contained 26pc of the businesses with a level of foreign ownership, while ‘all other’ agricultural industries contained 18pc of the businesses with a level of foreign ownership.
The proportion of wholly Australian-owned businesses by industry is illustrated in the graph here.
The area of agricultural land in Australia owned by businesses with a level of foreign ownership increased from 44.9 million ha at 31 December 2010 to 49.6 million ha at 30 June 2013, an increase of 4.7 million ha.
In 2013, the vast majority (95pc) of the total area of agricultural land owned by businesses with a level of foreign ownership (47.2 million ha) was owned by 45 businesses. Each of these businesses had land holdings over 100,000ha in size. Similarly in 2010, the majority (94pc) of the total area of agricultural land owned by businesses with a level of foreign ownership (42.2 million ha) was owned by 44 businesses, each with land holdings over 100,000ha in size.
By contrast, the area of agricultural land owned by smaller-sized businesses with a level of foreign ownership (i.e. businesses with land holdings of less than 400ha) fell from 86,000ha in 2010 (owned by 680 businesses) to 32,000ha in 2013 (owned by 310 businesses).
Of the states and territories, Victoria had the lowest proportion of its agricultural land owned by businesses with a level of foreign ownership (2.0pc or 238,000ha). The NT had the highest proportion owned by businesses with a level of foreign ownership (32pc or 17.7 million ha).
The proportion of agricultural land in each state and territory owned by wholly Australian-owned businesses is illustrated in this graph.
The proportion of agricultural land owned by wholly Australian-owned businesses by industry is illustrated in this graph.
Water entitlements for farm businesses with some level of overseas ownership also increased significantly over the past three years, with most of this increase happening in Queensland.
Water entitlements totalled more than 13 million megalitres in 2013 (down 4pc on the previous survey), with more than 11 million megalitres being wholly Australian owned, and nearly 2 million megalitres going to those with some level of foreign ownership (up 55pc).
About this survey:
This is the second ALWOS survey conducted by ABS. The first ALWOS was conducted in 2010 following the introduction of the Foreign Acquisitions Amendment (Agricultural Land) Bill, when the ABS was asked to collect information on the level of foreign ownership of agricultural businesses, land and water entitlements used for agricultural activity to inform government policy in this area. Data from the first ALWOS was released in mid-2011.
In 2012 the Federal Government announced it would fund ongoing and expanded statistical data collection by the ABS on foreign ownership of agricultural land and water entitlements. This was to be collected via stand-alone sample surveys in 2013 and 2018 and through the Agricultural Census in 2016 and 2021.
The 2013 ALWOS was designed to deliver the same information requirements as the 2010 survey, which includes national-level estimates and data provided by state/territory or by industry group where available. The ALWOS provides data on the level of direct foreign ownership of businesses with agricultural land holdings in Australia, measured in three categories of: greater than 0pc and less than 10pc foreign ownership; greater than or equal to 10pc and less than or equal to 50pc foreign ownership; and greater than 50pc foreign ownership. The ALWOS also provides information on the area of agricultural land and volume of water entitlements by the level of foreign ownership of the owning business.
- Access more information on the ALWOS report here
- See today’s separate report on progress in the Federal Government’s Foreign Ownership of Land register here.