C’mon in! Australia’s farmland is up for sale

Hard to believe isn’t it? Australia really is for sale! This advertisement appeared in Queensland Country Life, an Australian farmer’s magazine, earlier this month.

A few months ago I wrote about the high level of rural debt in Australia. Now it looks like the banks and the farmers, or the farmers and the banks, have had enough.

Landmark-Harcourts is one of several national Australian rural real estate firms that are setting up shop in Asia with the single objective of selling Australian farmland and real estate to whoever has the money.

For many of us, particularly the older generation, there’s more than a touch of irony in Landmark being involved in selling the farm to foreign investors.

Landmark is all that is left of what was originally the biggest farmer-owned co-operative in Australia, maybe the world. Formed by West Australian farmers in 1914 as the Westralian Farmer’s Co-operative, it focused its business on the provision of services and merchandise to farmers, many of who were returning from the Great War. In 1924, 9,094,711 acres were acquired or set apart for soldier settlement in Western Australia.

The farmer-owned co-operative dealt in wool and livestock and during the Great Depression set up one of the first wheat pools in Australia in 1935.

Landmark, now a distant relative of the original Westralian Farmer’s Co-operative, is selling to anyone with the money, the Australia farms its forebears pioneered from bushland just over 100 years ago.

It’s no secret that farming in Australia today, from horticulture, to livestock to crops is going through difficult times. Debts are high, land values are falling and banks are casting a jaundiced eye as debt-to-equity ratios inevitably change.

The national dairy industry is in chaos with a mixture of poor seasons and supermarkets selling milk for less than bottled water and cola. Dairy farmer suicide rates are becoming a matter of real concern.

Prior to 2011 northern cattle producers from Queensland to Western Australia exported over half a million cattle every year to Indonesia. All it took was one national television program showing animal cruelty in a backyard Indonesian abattoir, and a naive and inexperienced Australian government for that trade to be stopped overnight.

The Indonesian government punished Australia and many cattle producers went bankrupt. Now, nearly three years later, with the price of beef skyrocketing in Indonesia the live trade is starting again but for many cattlemen and women in Australia, it’s just too late.

Even with the value of the Australian dollar steadily falling from the heady days of A$1.10 to the greenback, to where it is now, somewhere in the high 80s to low 90s, with price forecasts all over the place, it doesn’t look like anyone in wheat farming is going to make a fortune this year. Too many debts, and for many in Western Australia, our main exporting state, not enough rain.

Put all of that together and mix it with an average age of all farmers of close to 60 and not enough young farmers to take on the worry and the burden of the debt, something had to give.

If you’re getting on in years and you want what time is left to be without the anxiety of farming, any buyer is better than no buyer at all. Who can argue with that?

Landmark’s portfolio for China is full. They have over 60 properties listed and they are not all farms, so they reflect the breadth of interest being shown in China in buying property in Australia.

Landmark-Harcourts has available everything from commercial properties, to Pacific Ocean residential, lifestyle or hobby farms to large broadacre holdings. From the tropical north to the temperate south, Queensland has something for everyone and it’s all for sale.

Does the federal government care? Doesn’t look like it. We are in the middle of the longest general election campaign on record and agriculture doesn’t rate. Gay marriage does, so too does continuing to subsidize General Motors with hundreds of millions of dollars to make cars nobody wants, but not agriculture — it’s been put in the “too hard” basket.

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