Farmers still not sold on overseas investors

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58 percent of Australian farmers want less FDI in Australian farms, according to a new survey.
The Land | 25 August 2014

Farmers still not sold on overseas investors

by MATTHEW CRANSTON

CLOSE to 60 per cent of ­farmers in a major new survey still believe there should be less foreign direct investment (FDI) in Australian farms.

The survey, commissioned by ­mid-tier accounting firm Bentleys and conducted by Empirica Research, whose clients include CBus and ­Commonwealth government ­departments, included 111 agribusinesses around Australia.

The results come as a debate on ­foreign investment in agriculture ­persists following Saputo's takeover of Warrnambool Cheese and Butter, the prevention of both Archer Daniels ­Midland's takeover of GrainCorp and Ebro's takeover of SunRice as well as the buyout of Australia's largest cotton farm, Cubbie Station, by Chinese and Japanese investors.

When asked how much foreign investment there should be in Australia and given the options of more or less than 50 per cent, 58 per cent said there should be less, the main reason being a fear foreign investors could end up controlling a lot of Australian companies.

Only 30 per cent of respondents said there should be less foreign investment because of the potential for pressure on prices farmers receive.

Bentleys Queensland managing director and head of agribusiness Ben Cameron said he was shocked by the results.

"Ironically, I think foreign investment will be the saviour of this industry," he said. "I think there is a massive education gap that needs to be filled in this industry but I think it will come when [farmers] see their struggling neighbour bailed out by overseas."

Of all survey respondents, 37 per cent said they were seeing the same level of foreign investment in their ­sector as they had done five years ago, while only 30 per cent said there had been an increase.

Mr Cameron said the last two years had been the hardest in the 25 years he has been covering agriculture and said as more farmers understood the ­importance of foreign capital, their views would change.

"I think there are quite a few ­transactions in the wings and that will change the perception," he said.

"I also think it is a generational thing. The average age of the farmer is well over 60 and I think the younger generation is much more accepting of the foreign investment."

The survey also looked at ­competition from foreign ­investors, asking how they have changed respondents' sales ­and profitability.

Just under 70 per cent said that ­foreign competition had decreased sales and profitability while only 3 per cent said it had increased sales and profitability.
Original source: The Land
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