There’s a change sweeping Australian agriculture.
The nation that was “built on the sheep’s back” and has had an enduring relationship with all things farming since white settlement in 1788, is undergoing a systemic shift in its rural industries. Since the British arrived, ‘family farms’ have underpinned the agricultural industry in Australia. But now institutional investors are arriving in droves and families are either exiting, or themselves adopting a more corporate approach to farming.
From the vast cattle stations of the outback to the rolling green hills in the nation’s south east that are home to dairy farms; from the banana and sugar plantations in the continent’s north east to the massive cropping country that sweeps through the heart of the nation – all were once the domain of families. Those farms are now being targeted by corporate investors, lured by the consistent long term gains that seem to outperform many other asset classes, as well as a desire to participate in the rising Asian protein boom.
While drought, fire, floods and varying commodity price cycles all make headline news in the popular press and taint the image of rural Australian life, there’s a growing cabal of savvy investors that understand the underlying opportunity: an opportunity supported by an increasing number of indices that monitor the sector. The Savills Farmland Index has long argued the investment case for agricultural land, with the 2016 version showing Australasian farmland has enjoyed a 13% annualised growth rate since 2002. The NCREIF Australian Farmland Index – which monitors the returns of 57 corporate farms across Australia – recorded a 16.89% total return for the 12 months to the end of March this year. Income returns were 8.06% and capital appreciation accounted for 8.42%. The index is compiled by the National Council of Real Estate Investment Fiduciaries of the US and has been monitoring farm returns since 1990.