25 Sep

Bums on (Rural) Seats: Declining populations in Australian country towns

Image: Where have all the young women gone? Yap Yap (dog) pulled in a cart by Achong – Trundle, NSW, by an unknown photographer, from the State Library of New South Wales with no known copyright restrictions.

While Australia’s population is estimated to increase from 23 million to 38 million by 2050, the population of many rural areas is in a steady decline.

Subsidised housing and education, and improved services offer the key to regional growth, according to a report unveiled at The Nationals conference earlier this month.

The report, presented by Senator Bridget McKenzie – suggests that making regional life more affordable would attract locals to return to country areas, and encourage migrants to settle outside cities.

Despite the fact that recent growth in coastal areas, mining regions and areas surrounding cities has been strong, inland and outback regions suffer more commonly from a declining population.

According to the Regional Australia Institute, the key to driving migration to regional areas is to focus on three key groups – super boomers, International migrants and regional returners. While this may provide growth to regional centres, many smaller rural communities struggle to attract new residents.

Lots of Bachelors, but no Bachelorettes

In Lucindale, South Australia – a highly productive and profitable grazing and cropping region – there is a shortage of potential spouses for local growers. While there are 15 eligible bachelors between 25-34 in the town, there are no single women in the same age group.

Local Luke Graetz – a 30-year-old farmer who also manages the family stock and station agency – is one of the 15 single men lamenting the lack of potential partners. Despite the region offering an attractive lifestyle, the increasing size of farms in the district has reduced the local population – and with it – eligible bachelorettes.

‘It’s a good little spot but as you say, there aren’t too many young females around. I’ve got a lot of connections in Adelaide but footy and business keep you home in winter. The footy and netball club, that’s cranking,’ he said.

‘The big farms are getting bigger. Once there would be five 2,000 acre properties, now there is one 10,000 acre property that has taken its place’.

Trundle On

Residents in a tiny outback town in New South Wales tackled population decline head-on through the Trundle Tree Change program, which offered new residents the chance to lease one of ten empty farmhouses for just $1 a week.

During the Millennium drought, Trundle’s population dropped by one-third with significant consequences on the local community and economy. Half the local shops closed, and the school was in danger of closing due to low enrollment numbers.

The tree change initiative invited applications from people looking to move to Trundle, pairing ten families with ten empty farmhouses in an effort to boost the local population.

Five years on and all ten farmhouses are still leased, with additional empty homes having also been filled. The town’s population has increased to 750 – higher than the pre-drought figure of 580. Unemployment is low, vacant residential properties are scarce and sporting teams have been rejuvenated thanks to the influx of new residents.

The main street, which has undergone extensive community-funded upgrades – is now home to several new businesses including a chemist – a service that has been absent from the town since the last one closed up shop in 1976.

Sources: The Australian, Regional Australia Institute, The Daily Telegraph, ABC

25 Sep

Juiced: Hurricane Irma devastates Florida’s Citrus Industry

Hurricane Irma has significantly damaged Florida’s Orange crop, which should lead to an increase the price of Oranges globally. Image: Vintage Postcard – Oranges In Florida, licensed under a CC BY-ND 2.0 license.

Orange juice futures soared amid the devastation left by Hurricane Irma, with the biggest jump in price in 16 months.

Orange juice for delivery in November increased by 6.2% in price to US$1.45/pound, with cotton for delivery in December climbing by 4.2% to US74.88c/pound. Market concern for future supplies of oranges for juicing prompted some manufacturers to bump prices by 10%, with future rises expected.

Florida feeling the squeeze

The state of Florida – America’s top orange producer and the world’s second-highest producer of orange juice – declared a state of emergency in the wake of widespread damage caused by Hurricane Irma earlier this month.

Early estimates indicate losses of up to 70% of Florida’s orange crop, worth US$7 billion. With citrus crops almost ready to harvest, the impact upon the global prices will be significant, but exact figures won’t be available until the damage has been fully surveyed.

Shannon Shepp – the Executive Director of the Florida Department of Citrus – says the storm damage will affect the industry on both a short and long-term basis.

‘Significant is not the right word. It’s somewhere between significant and catastrophic. And that’s a big word – I don’t use it lightly,’ she said.

In addition to the short-term impact on the industry, many trees will need to be replanted, delaying any future harvests until the trees reach maturity.

Orange growers have already battled through a ten-year battle to manage citrus greening disease, which turns fruit bitter and reduces crop yield. Since 2005, the disease has reduced Florida’s citrus crop by 70%.

90% of Florida’s oranges are used for juice. Estimates for this season had projected the state to produce 68.5million boxes of oranges and 7.8 mission boxes of grapefruit.

Surveying the wider damage

With up to US$3 trillion of property in the path of the hurricane in Florida alone, experts estimate that the damage bill could be as high as US$300 billion.

Winter crops including tomatoes, capsicums, wheat, corn, snap beans, cucumbers, strawberries and squash were also at risk of being damaged. Given many of these crops were recently sown, there is potentially still a window of opportunity for growers able to replant.

However, it may be too late for sugar cane growers, who are due to start harvesting their crops at the beginning of next month. Florida is also the largest US producer of sugar cane, with this season’s crop estimated to be around 2.1 million tonnes. Aerial surveys to determine the extent of the damage are due to be carried out this week.

Wheat’s looking up Down Under

Closer to home, encouraging recent rainfall events – predominantly on the east coast – have prompted ABARES to increase the annual wheat crop estimate by 1% to 24.19 million tonnes.

Sources: CNBC, gro-intelligence, The Guardian, ABCNews, The Sun

25 Sep

Tattoo You: The Future of Labelling for the Fresh Produce Industry

Image: Could tattooed labels on fruit and veg be a sustainable answer for the fresh produce industry? Image reproduced with permission from Laser Foods.

Tattooing labels on fruit and vegetable items could become a norm as the fresh produce industry seeks an alternative to traditional stickers.

Spanish-based company Laser Foods has developed a technology that can tattoo custom labelling directly into the skin of fruit and vegetables. Their machines use lasers to ‘print’ a label on the skin of produce without affecting eating quality or shelf life.

The technology can be installed into packing rooms and uses conveyor belts to feed items into the machine, where the labels are printed on the produce before it is packed and dispatched. The printing process takes a fifth of a second per piece of fruit or vegetable.

In Search of Sustainability

In 2014, it was reported that UK retailer Marks and Spencers used 7 tonnes of individual labels on loose fresh produce items. Identifying a way to avoid sticker labelling reduces the environmental footprint involved with producing, sourcing and applying labels, and presents exciting new marketing options for growers and suppliers.

With growing consumer interest in food traceability, sustainability and nutrition, tattoo labelling could be used to provide the information customers are looking for including place of origin, brand and even use by dates. It also opens the door to promotional campaigns such as marking pumpkins for Halloween and making fruit more appealing to children.

Opportunities for Organics

The technology has appeal for growers of certified organics who are seeking a way to differentiate their produce from non-organic items. Loose produce sold without packaging – such as apples and bananas – is notoriously hard to segment from its conventionally grown counterparts, but tattoo labelling could offer a realistic solution.

As part of a Nuffield scholarship, Queensland Banana grower Matthew Abbott investigated labelling options as part of a search for more suitable packaging than traditional sticky labels. As an organic grower, he was also looking for a way to separate his produce from conventionally grown bananas.

‘One of the big problems that we have at the moment is being able to brand our fruit so we can sell conventional and organic side-by-side in the shop’ he said.

Mr Abbott had already considered several alternatives including printing ink logos directly onto the skin of bananas.

‘When it ripens it goes into a cold room and it gets moisture on the fruit and the ink. If it’s touched when it’s wet, rubs off.’

During his Nuffield Scholarship travels, Mr Abbott came across the Laser Food technology and is now in talks with the company to develop a system that could be incorporated into his packing system.

‘The technology can be there but if you haven’t got a system around it that can be functional when it goes into your shed it can be just too hard to make it work’.

Sources: ABC, BBC

19 Sep

Back from the Brink: Is the Tassie Tiger alive and kicking?

Image: Sightings and rumours that the Thylacine is still alive have fueled several volunteer groups to actively look for signs of the marsupial. Wombat and Thylacine Lithograph, by an unknown author from the Instructive Picture Book (1877) available through a public domain license.

Recently released footage of what appears to be a Thylacine has renewed speculation that the Tasmanian Tiger has escaped extinction.

A Thylacine tracking group – The Booth Richardson Tiger Team (BRTT) – has released a video that purportedly includes footage and audio of the carnivorous mammal.

While the group is seeking independent verification that the animal is a Thylacine, one expert has already cast his doubt. Conservationist Nick Mooney, who analysed the video, says the animal is more likely to be a spotted quoll.

‘I think based on anatomy, movement, behaviour size, I think it is perhaps a one-in-five chance it’s a thylacine’ he said.

While he’s hopeful that the animal could still be alive, he is cautious about the effect a confirmed siting could have.

‘Half of Tasmania would think it was like finding oil, and the other half would probably be horrified to think what it would mean to the animals. Essentially it would be very exciting. But it’s just one piece of evidence’.

In July this year, Yorke Peninsula school teacher Paul Day claimed he had filmed a Tasmanian Tiger running across a paddock at Moonta.

Tiger History: From Apex Hunter to Extinction

Although commonly associated with Tasmania, there is strong evidence to suggest that Thylacines once lived across mainland Australia, and even in Papua New Guinea. Rock art including images of the Tasmanian Tiger has been found in the Northern Territory and Western Australia, and Thylacine bones have been discovered around the country – with some having been dated as more than 2,200 years old.

The demise of the mainland Thylacine pre-dates European settlement, with experts suggesting that competition for food and the threat of other predators caused their extinction.

Thylacines continued to thrive in parts of Tasmania until European settlers brought sheep to graze on the apple isle. By 1930, the Van Diemen’s Land Company offered a bounty for the scalp of each animal effectively sealing the fate of the species.

The last known Tasmanian Tiger, Benjamin, was captured in 1933 and kept at Hobart Zoo, where he died in 1936 – supposedly from exposure after a zoo keeper forgot to lock him in an enclosure overnight.

Tiger Future: Science Fact or Science Fiction?

Since 1999, The Australian Museum has been leading a project to see if it is possible to bring extinct species back to life. Thylacine genes were successfully artificially duplicated in 2002.

Theoretically, if enough chromosomes can be replicated, they could be transferred into the egg of a Tasmanian Devil – the only living close relative of the Thylacine – which could give birth to a live, young Tasmanian Tiger.

Sources: Australian Government, ABC, 7 News

 

30 Aug

Beef for Burgers and Chicken for Chow Mein: Foreign Investment in Australian Agriculture is on the Rise

Image: Interest in Australian farm land is increasing, with buyers from Europe, America and Asia keen to secure both land and established agricultural enterprises. Aerial Photo of an Australian Summer Landscape by Thennike from Wikimedia licensed under a Creative Common CC BY-SA 4.0

More than 10% of Australian agricultural land is owned by foreign investors, according to the Foreign Investment Review Board’s annual report (2015-2016).

The United Kingdom has the biggest slice of the pie, owning 25.5 million hectares – 52% of foreign-owned Australian agricultural land. The USA claims the second largest share with 7.7 million hectares, followed by the Netherlands (3 million hectares), Singapore (1.9 million hectares) and China (1.5 million hectares).

Interest in Australian agricultural land and agribusiness grew in the 2015-2016 financial year, with 227 approved foreign-backed transactions totalling $4.6 billion – an 80% increase on the previous year. The United States was the most active spender, investing $1.3 billion, followed by China ($996 million).

No Kidding about Foreign Investment

The sale of S Kidman & Co’s cattle stations – located in Western Australia, South Australia, Northern Territory and Queensland – was a highly contentious story in 2015.

As the largest privately held portfolio of land in Australia, there was significant community unease about a potential sale to a largely Chinese backed entity, especially given the Woomera Prohibited Area (WPA) defence zone makes up a significant portion of Anna Creek Station.

The sale was halted in 2016 by the Treasurer, who cited the proposal as being ‘contrary to the national interest’. In October of the same year, nine of the ten properties were sold to Australian Outback Beef Pty Ltd, owned in majority by Gina Reinhart’s Hancock Beef. The remaining 33% is owned by Chinese entity Shanghai CRED Real Estate Co. Ltd.

Anna Creek – the world’s largest cattle station – was sold in a separate transaction to neighbouring William Cattle Company, alleviating fears about foreign investment in Australian defence land.

Everybody Needs Good Neighbours

Attention from foreign investors is being driven by Australia’s capacity to provide large volumes of quality food products for a growing global population. Asian countries, including China, are facing unprecedented rates of population growth, urbanisation and income growth – creating more demand for Australian food products.

In 2016, Van Diemens Land Company (VDL) was sold for $280 million to Moon Lake Investments, owned by Chinese businessman Lu Xianfeng. As Australia’s largest dairy company, there was significant interest from buyers including two Australian bidders. Following approval from the Foreign Review Board, Moon Lake was announced as the successful purchaser. Rival bidder TasFoods launched legal proceedings against VDL’s parent company claiming they reneged on a previous sale agreement. The Melbourne-based company was awarded an out-of-court settlement of $1.25 million.

Contrary to popular belief, VDL has always been a foreign owned entity. Established 190 years ago through a land grant, VDL was established on a land grant and was sold to Moon Lake by the New Plymouth District Council (New Zealand).

Sources: Foreign Investment Review Board, Australian Bureau of Statistics, The Weekly Times, ABC, ABC,

30 Aug

Capturing Carbon: The Quest for Sequestration

Image: Researchers from Eurofins Agroscience Australia (far right and far left) shoe Soil C Quest’s Mick Wettenhall and Guy Webb (centre) how research into inoculums is progressing. Image supplied.

A bold new project aims to put the future of food security and climate change firmly in the hands of farmers, through the development of ‘game changing’ biotechnology.

A newly formed non-for profit research and development organisation is exploring the potential for the humble fungi to be used to create and store large amounts of carbon in the soil.

Soil C Quest is extending initial research by The University of Sydney that discovered the potential for soil microbes to ‘capture and build soil carbon at unprecedented rates’.

‘The University of Sydney study sourced isolates of fungi from the Sydney basin area. Of those, 24 showed a statistical increase in soil carbon over a 14 week period, and two or three showed a significant increase in soil carbon’, explains Guy Webb, CEO of Soil C Quest.

Trial results also detected a mild increase in crop growth indicating that there could be a host of additional agronomic benefits if the biotechnology can get to a market-ready stage.

Soil C Quest was formed to further the research, initially conducting a field trial to test the inoculum in canola which showed a 30% increase in soil carbon in 30 days.

‘We’ve had success increasing soil carbon under canola, cotton and sub clover, and part of the research we’re doing now is identifying the specific fungi that will be able to increase soil carbon in other crops and different climate zones’.

Two birds, one inoculant

For farmers, particularly continuous croppers, the prospect of being able to build soil carbon through a simple seed inoculant represents an opportunity to increase yields using fewer inputs, leading to increased sustainability.

An essential feature in all landscapes, carbon is the pillar of soil fertility, directly influencing soil’s ability to hold water, cycle nutrients and make nitrogen available for plants. Experts speculate that between 50% and 80% of organic carbon in the surface of Australian soils has been lost since European settlement, contributing to the ever-increasing input requirements of modern farming systems.

The biotechnology being explored by Soil C Quest has the potential to reverse many of the issues caused by land degradation. An increase in soil organic carbon from just 1-2% can store the equivalent of an extra 30 units of nitrogen/hectare, as well as increasing the capacity of soil to hold water. Consider that against the initial trial where soil organic carbon increased by 30% in 30 days and the sustainability of farming systems seems all the more positive.

Reversing Climate Change

As well as the benefits to the agricultural sector, biotechnologies like the Soil C Quest project offer a contingency plan for the effects of climate change. Human activities like deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels have contributed to an excess of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere, one of the main contributors to the greenhouse gas effect.

‘Locking carbon up in the soil is a really cheap climate change mitigation tool. Effectively it will be paid for by farmers, they’ll deploy the technology at a scale given one billion hectares is cropped globally every year’.

‘The current level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is 400 parts per million, and that needs to be reduced to 350 parts per million to start reversing global warming. A 10% increase in global soil carbon stores annually could theoretically remove around 10 parts per million of atmospheric carbon dioxide each year’.

In an effort to continue research in this area, Soil C Quest will be launching a crowd funding campaign at the NSW state Landcare conference in October this year.

Sources: Landcare Australia, Amazing Carbon, NASA, 350.org, Soil C Quest

30 Aug

The Fight against Flystrike: Proactive Pain Relief Now Available for Sheep

Image: Crutching sheep involves removing some of the skin from the backend of sheep to reduce the chance of flystrike. Crutching1 by cGoodwin is licensed under Creative Commons BY-SA 3.0.

Injectable pain relief is now available for use sheep, but it is too late for the mulesing debate?

A newly available injectable pain relief product has recently been approved for use in sheep, giving Australian farmers another strategy to improve animal welfare standards.

Metacam 20 has been readily available for use in horses and pigs for some time and was recently approved for use in sheep over 14 days old by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA). Unlike other pain relief options, Metacam 20 is the only known drug that can be administered to sheep prior to crutching.

In 2011, the Australian-developed product – Tri-Solfen – was released to the market for use after surgical mulesing of sheep. Data released by parent company Animal Ethics Pty Ltd showed that 58% of Australian lambs were treated with Tri-Solfen in 2014, with state figures ranging between 82% (South Australia) and 16% (Queensland).

What’s the potential?

Increasing use of Tri-Solfen has been driven by pressure from textile buyers seeking wool from sources where mulesing is either banned or carried out with sufficient pain relief. At between 40-50 cents per head, Tri-Solfen offered growers a cost effective way to stay on the right side of the market. At around $4 per head, Metacam 20 is significantly more expensive than Tri-Solfen.

While Metacam 20 does offer preventative pain relief, it is unclear whether animal welfare groups are willing to back down on a total ban of mulesing.

Guidelines set out by the Responsible Wool Standard (RWS) appear to advocate for the complete absence of mulesing, rather than the use of adequate pain relief – a concern for the industry given more and more major retailers are publically supporting the RWS.

The RWS was set up by Textile Exchange – a not-for-profit organisation representing the textile industry – in response to growing calls from the industry to develop global standards for the ethical and sustainable production of wool garments.

Over the ditch

In 2007, the New Zealand government started ‘phasing out’ mulesing in response to growing criticism from animal rights groups and consumers.

Shifting attitudes towards the practice were seen quickly in the private sector, with the launch of ZQ – an opt-in accreditation program for wool growers that includes a no-mulesing policy. New Zealand Merino Company – the developer of ZQ – claim that the program has opened more doors for accredited growers, including the stabilisation of wool prices through the availability of forward contracts.

Did you know?

  • The practice of mulesing was named after John WH Mules, who accidentally cut the skin from the hind end of a ewe during shearing. Noticing the ewe did not suffer from flystrike, he started crutching all his sheep.
  • The fly responsible for fly strike – Lucilia cuprina – is thought to have been introduced to Australia from South Africa in the nineteenth century.
  • Mulesing was approved by the Australian Government for use in the 1930s. The practice was due to be phased out by 2010, but the wool industry voted against the ban due to a lack of effective alternatives.

 

Sources: Responsible Wool, Mulesing, Farm Weekly, ABC, Petceutics, APVMA

30 Aug

Save our River: The Case of The Disappearing Water

Image: The sustainability of the Barwon River is of significant concern given the level of over extraction being carried out by irrigators. Collarenebri by cGoodwin is licensed under Creative Commons BY-SA 3.0.

ABC’s Four Corners programme that aired last month raised serious question around the allocation, monitoring and policing of water allocations within the Murray Darling Basin.

The programme alleged that water bought from irrigators by the government to use as environmental water was being used to irrigate cotton farms. Several New South Wales irrigators were accused of offences including water theft by metre tampering, over extraction, and pumping water during irrigation bans or low flow periods.

Investigating Irrigators

The New South Wales State Government initially investigated several of these cases, gathering information that suggested a significant over extraction of water by irrigators. When the investigating officer applied for government consent to conduct an escalated inspection of water extraction methods of one farmer, the approval was denied.

This coincided with a sudden drop in allocated funds for the investigations unit, suggesting that forces within the department were trying to hamper the prosecution of non-compliant irrigators.

The programme also highlighted the ill effects of rule changes that effectively allow growers to draw high volumes of water out of the river during low flows and alleged backroom deals between irrigation lobbyists and the New South Wales State Government.

Industry Insight

The Lucas Group Director Geoff Lucas sees the lack of regulation, monitoring and compliance as a major issue for the ongoing management of the Murray Darling Basin.

‘Breeches in water use – including the manipulation of monitoring systems – is theft, just like scamming money from an ATM or robbing a bank,’ he said.

‘The system needs to be overhauled at every level, from reviewing water allocations through closer monitoring of water use, and it’s essential the authorities prosecute offenders so there is a deterrent for other irrigators’.

His suggestions include investing in better water flow modelling so that irrigators can be instructed on the amount of water they can draw in line with the needs of the environment and other water users down stream. He also proposed that New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria adopt the water allocation model of South Australia, so licensed water use is limited when water flows are scarce.

Mr Lucas – a former board member of Agribusiness Australia – sees technology as being key to the successful monitoring and compliance of water extracted through the basin.

‘The federal government needs to invest money so effective monitoring systems can record the extraction of water at every irrigation extraction point along the River system. This can be remote accessed, so the basin authority has real-time access to data on water use so any deviations can be quickly identified and managed. Given the promises of the NBN, a remote-accessed real time system should be possible.

He warns that without a significant overhaul of the system, the Murray Darling system will continue to decline at an alarming rate

‘A lack of proper process and governance around water use for irrigators is making a farce of the water market and devalues water licences. Effective implementation of the basin plan is critical to managing the water resources, which are available for all Australians.

Sources: ABC, Four Corners

25 Jul

Turn me on: The value of agtech in a digital age

Image: Agtechnologies including CropX and mOasis present opportunities for irrigators to grow more produce with less water.  Turkey Centre Pivot Irrigation System from Alibaba, labelled for reuse.

The impact of climate change combined with an increasing global population and a reduction in arable lands is pressuring technology for a solution – how to grow more food with fewer resources. Generating excitement within the tech world, the race to find the best agtech solution is also gathering interest from investors with large sums of money being offered up by venture capitalists.

While Australia hasn’t yet realised its full potential in the agtech world, America and Israel are successfully leading the way in the development of agricultural technologies. In this article, we take a look at three of the most exciting emerging products from agtech start-ups.

 

CropX SensorCropX

CropX – an Israeli developed system – aims to help irrigators to boost crop yields and save on water with a network of in-field sensors.

The CropX system is capable of scanning a paddock and determining distinct production zones and even identifies the best location for sensors to be installed within a paddock.

Once installed, the system automatically develops an irrigation plan and sends the farmer daily text messages providing an overview of soil moisture levels and suggested requirements on a per zone basis – meaning water applications can be more informed and precise processes.

At US$600 per sensor, installing multiple units into a paddock is not only feasible but also significantly cheaper than many other soil moisture probe brands. The farmer can install each sensor in minutes, reducing the need and expense of hiring a contractor.


mOasis

Another start up that promises to improve the efficiency of water use for irrigators is mOasis. This American company has developed and manufactured several soil additives that help retain water in the soil, meaning fewer irrigation applications and healthier crops.

mOasis products come in various formats including powders and granules, which are applied to paddocks with common farm machines such as a seeder or spray unit. The company claims that BountiGel P retains up to 250 times its weight in water helping to provide consistent moisture to plants, reducing stress and increasing yields and quality.

Initial trials have shown promising data for mOasis products. A study undertaken by the University of Fresno in California investigated the impact of BountiGel on irrigated tomatoes over three years. The trial resulted in a yield increase of 8.5% and return increase of $370 / acre, plus additional savings through reduced water use, compared to crops grown without the additive.

Arvegenix

The company’s core focus is the development of Field Pennycress into a viable cash crop to be used as both a renewable fuel and animal feed source. As a winter crop, Arvegenix is promoting Pennycress as an alternative to fallowed paddocks between soy and corn rotations, providing farmers with additional revenue and a source of valuable cover to reduce erosion and nutrient losses.

A member of the brassica (mustard) family, Pennycress seeds are very high in oil with the right properties to be used in biodiesel and aviation fuel. Initial research suggests that pennycress biodiesel is much more suitable for use in cold climates than other oil-based biodiesel products.

A by-product of the extraction of oil is Pennycress meal, which is being tested for its suitability as a source of nutrition for ruminant animals. Arvegenix claims that Pennycress meal could contain 33-35% protein, fatty acids and carbohydrates ‘that are expected to provide an excellent feed for ruminant animals’.

Arvegenix was set up by a team of ex-Monsanto Executives and has received funding through Monsanto’s venture capital arm – Monsanto Growth Ventures (MGV).

Sources: Forbes, CropX, mOasis, Arvergenix

25 Jul

Hey big Spender: The rise of agricultural land prices in Australia and beyond

Image: Jackson Land and Cattle was listed for US$175million in 2011. Photo courtesy of Business Insider.

The Shire of Cardinia in Victoria is home to the most expensive farmland in Australia, according to a report released earlier this year.

The Australian Farmland Values 2016 report shows that land in the area sold for a median price of $21,999 per hectare. The Shire of Cardinia borders the south-eastern side of Melbourne and major residential developments is a key driver in the value of agricultural land.

In contrast, the cheapest land in Victoria was in the Wimmera Mallee with a median price of $1,282 per hectare. In 2016, 51 parcels of land around the towns of Birchip, Donald and Wycheproof were traded, indicating strong interest from buyers in a traditionally tightly held region.

In New South Wales, the most costly land can be found in the Northern Rivers region, 50kms south of the Queensland border. Land in the Shire of Byron sold for a median price of $17,794 in 2016 with only nine recorded transactions. Fertile soils and favourable weather make the region ideal for a range of agricultural commodities including beef and dairy, vegetables, fruits and emerging crop varieties such as macadamias, bamboo and lychees. The cheapest land in New South Wales can be found in the Central Darling region, with a median price per hectare of $57.

Land in the Adelaide Hills has driven the median price of land to $18,278 per hectare. Reliable rainfall and the appeal of lifestyle properties continue to drive demand in the area, which has a three-year average median price of $19,407 per hectare. On the Eyre Peninsula, land around Cowell was sold for a median price of $358 per hectare.

You can still snap up a bargain in Queensland, with land selling for $41 per hectare at Croydon in the far north. Farmland between Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast recorded the highest median price at $15,694 / hectare.

In Western Australia, Busselton boasted the highest price per hectare at $13,041, while Mukinbudin country sold for a mere $411.

Agricultural land prices around the world

A 2015 report by the Financial Times (London) revealed that Ireland has the most expensive agricultural land in the world, worth an average of $13,600 per acre. The second most expensive agricultural land is found in New Zealand ($8,532 per acre), followed by Denmark ($7,934) and the UK ($5,448).

The price of agricultural land in the UK doubled between 2010 and 2015, making it a better investment than high-end real estate and even gold.

In America, the most expensive farming land can be found in the Napa Valley, famed as the country’s premier wine growing region. In 2012, land was worth up to a staggering $378,000 per acre, with one transaction realising a $6.3 million asking price for a mere 3 acres of land.

In 2011, a 1750-acre ranch – Jackson Land and Cattle at Jackson Hole, Wyoming – was listed for $220 million – the most expensive ranch on the market at the time. The property boasted ‘an equestrian centre, ponds, a spring and breathtaking scenery’, as one would expect from a property worth $126,000 per acre.

‘Bigger than Israel’

The largest property in Australia and the world’s largest cattle station – Anna Creek station in South Australia – was sold for a comparatively bargain price of $16 million in 2016. The 6 million acre property is bigger than Israel, with the ability to carry up to 17,000 head of cattle.

The largest farm in the world is the Chinese super dairy – Mudanjiang City Mega Farm at Heilongjang. The 22,500,000 acre farm was expanded in 2011 in response to the Russian ban on EU dairy products and supports a herd of 100,000 dairy cows.

Sources: The Independent (Ireland), Business Insider, ABC, World Atlas, Napa Valley Register, The Guardian (UK), The Australian, Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, Australian Farmland Values 2016

Note: Prices in this article are quoted per hectare for Australian farmland, and per acre for land overseas. All prices are quoted in AUD unless stated with currency rates as at 24th July 2017.