JODIE THOMSON and KATE TARALA
Agriculture Minister Terry Redman says WA should embrace moves by Arab interests in the Middle East to buy prime Wheatbelt farmland to secure their future food supplies.
Two groups from the Middle East are due to visit the State early next year as they consider investments of up to $1 billion in cropping, sheep and dairy production in WA.
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Buying or long-term leasing of WA farmland is being investigated mainly by Saudi Arabia as it tries to cut its wheat and barley production to manage its scarce water resources.
Mr Redman said yesterday the Middle East was a critical export region for WA, taking $1.3 billion worth of agricultural products a year.
He said the spin-offs from foreign investment in WA, the nation’s biggest wheat exporter, could yield dividends through stronger trade and a funding injection into the industry.
“If you have foreign investors, why wouldn’t you consider what they have got to put up?” he said. “I think we need to seriously consider it and in fact embrace it.”
He believed a balance could be struck between overseas and corporate investment and maintaining the traditional family farm.
Mr Redman was backed by Pastoralists and Graziers Association president Rob Gillam. “I find it difficult to say why we should preclude WA agriculture from the benefits of overseas investment when the urban real estate market and resource sector enjoy great benefit from it,” he said.
But Brookton farmer Paul Southam said large-scale foreign investment in WA farms would threaten the future of the traditional family farm. WA growers could lose access to international markets as investors could supply wheat directly to a country under the deregulated export market.
“I’m a bit disappointed the WA Department of Agriculture is out there marketing WA farming land instead of further developing markets for our quality product,” he said.
Department grains industry development director Peter Metcalfe said the buying or long-term leasing of land by Middle East investors was among a range of trade-boosting opportunities discussed at meetings in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates last month.
“Our role is to promote opportunities in WA; it wasn’t about selling off the farm, it was about making sure that we were in the mix along with the next competing country,” he said.
“These guys easily could have gone to Argentina, Brazil, Chile or New Zealand, and we were there saying there was an opportunity in WA.”
Middle East investment in WA farmland has been minimal but one private operation is viewed by industry as a successful model.
YYH Holdings, a wholly owned company of Kuwaiti businessman Yacoub Homaizi, owns and leases several Wheatbelt properties for Awassi sheep production. It has exported sheep to the Middle East for almost two decades and also produces grain.