IT IS generally accepted that woody and annual weeds reduce grazing land productivity and profitability, but how much do they impact on cattle property values in northern Australia?
This two-part property review series will explore the issue following the monsoonal event in February/March that resulted in an explosion of invasive weed populations in some areas of northern Australia.
In the region from Hughenden to Winton, up to the Gulf of Carpentaria, and back through Central Queensland, the main problem weeds range from prickly acacia to parthenium, noogoora burr, calatrope and asbestos grass.
To the east, there is a similar situation. From the Lower Peninsula down to Charters Towers and into the Lower Burdekin, there is bellyache bush, rubbervine, Captain Cook bush and chinee apple.
Invasive weeds are not just contained to north and north west Queensland. They arise in each catchment across Australia and are given varying degrees of attention by land managers.
The unfortunate immediate impact lies with the land holder, affecting their business and potentially, if left unchecked, the value of their land.
Roger Hill is a valuer and a director with Herron Todd White North Queensland.
From a northern property market perspective, he can list nine property sales that have occurred over the last 10 years between Winton, Hughenden and Julia Creek with moderate to severe infestations of prickly acacia (in some instances, every other weed too) where the sale price did not reflect a discount to existing local market value parameters.
Conversely, he can list sales where the vendors put an incredible amount of work and expense into eventually selling a ‘clean’ property, and where the market did not pay a premium either.
Mr Hill said the fact that purchasers do not buy at a discount is their choice.
“At the same time, purchasers haven’t elected to pay a premium for clean country where the vendors have worked really hard to keep their country in such condition,” he said.
“Some years ago, I worked out how much it would cost to intervene in the landscape and treat prickly acacia using traditional methods on a property listed for sale. Treating the infestation was so expensive that it became clear the vendor should have given the land away,” he said.
“Eventually, the market ended up paying the same hectare rate as the nearby ‘clean’ places, and the purchaser was not too concerned about the costs associated with treatment at all.”
Mr Hill said it was inevitable for the market to differentiate to some degree (be it a premium for clean country, discount for infested country, or a bit of both), because there was a massive business performance variation.
This year, Tom Brodie from Winton-based Brodie Agencies has sold nine properties for grass.
Eight were purchased by producers from eastern, central and southern Queensland, and one from Goodooga, 20km south of the border.
Mr Brodie said what has been noticeable this year, is that all potential buyers have raised concerns about prickly acacia.
“Usually, buyers don’t differentiate. However, all of the places that have transacted this year have had no weeds (or at worst moderate infestation).”
Mr Brodie said three currently-listed properties infested with prickly acacia were taking longer to sell.
“Part of the reason is that southern operators don’t want country infested with noxious weeds. They are not interested in looking at the country and if they do, they leave disappointed.”
“Those producers seeking grass for their breeders will eventually return home. What they don’t want to return with them are weeds,” he said.
Mr Brodie explained it was different with cattle producers from Queensland’s north and northwest who were often happy to purchase prickly acacia-infested downs country, because they were moving their cattle to market, a feedlot or meatworks.
Weeds devalue a property
What is evident is that weeds make properties more difficult to sell.
Mr Brodie said the first thing buyers did when inspecting a property was to scrutinise the country, then the water, fencing, infrastructure and improvements. They also look at position, whether the block fits into their existing mix, and then they looked at issues like weed presence (and the associated problems that come with them).
“Buyers want to see producers who are keen to sell and have made every effort to present their properties well. They don’t want any surprises. They don’t expect flash or expensive improvements. They just want the property in good working order and to be well presented.”
Chris Love is a field scientist with Corteva Agrisciences, a company producing a range of weed control products, covering Queensland and down to Tamworth in northern NSW.
He also owns a property near Munduberra in Queensland’s Central Burnett and said the weed problem (both native and exotic) had exploded, especially since the 2011 and 2013 floods.
Mr Love estimates just 10 percent of producers were adequately responding to weeds.
“In drought years, producers will spend money keeping animals alive. However, in this current climate (with strong beef and lamb prices), producers should be budgeting for weed control. It’s a difficult but important decision given Queensland’s new biosecurity arrangements.”
Mr Love said properties infested with noxious weeds were often more difficult to sell.
“Parthenium is a prolific seeder, so it’s important that producers manage the infestation. A property being sold with weeds is more likely to receive a discount, depending on the spread and the size of the infestation.”
“Land values won’t be affected by eucalypt regrowth, and lantana can be managed. However, it is important for potential buyers to revisit the affected country and re-treat it,” he said.
Mr Love believes the cleaner a property is, the more money it will achieve at sale time.
“It should be noted that if producers are spending more than 10 percent of the value of their land on weed control, then they are spending too much. The better option might be to buy more country,” he said.
Marketability and value
HTW’s Roger Hill said it was important to note that ‘marketability’ and ‘value’ are two separate issues when it came to exotic weed impact on property.
“I know of situations where the number of potential purchasers has been reduced substantially due to the weed status of the property. This issue does affect the marketability,” he said.
“In the end though, it appears that one buyer will eventually pay a price for infested country that reflects similar value rates to that of the surrounding sales in the market of the day. Therefore, the value of the property has not been discounted,” Mr Hill said.
Next week: Should the property market differentiate between country that is ‘clean’ and country that is ‘dirty’ and if so, how much per hectare should the difference be?