Foreign ownership of Australian agricultural land: 2020 statistics

Foreign ownership of Australian farmland increased last year but remained flat as a percentage of the overall total, with China holding the most land.

The amount of agricultural land with some level of foreign ownership increased slightly in 2019-20, but the percentage of land with foreign interests as a percentage of total agricultural land remained flat, according to the Australian Taxation Office’s Register of Foreign Ownership of Agricultural Land.

On June 30, 2020, 13.8 percent of total agricultural land had some level of foreign ownership, the same as on the same date a year earlier.

However, the total amount of land with some level of foreign ownership increased by 1.7 percent over the year to 53.0 million ha, up from 52.1 million ha in 2019. The Taxation Office attributed this to an increase in the total amount of agricultural land in Australia.

In addition to the rise in the total amount of land held by foreign interests, the number of foreign-held properties also rose by 853 to 9,897 (a 9.4 percent increase from 2019).

Tasmania saw the biggest year-on-year net increase in foreign-held agricultural land of any state or territory, with a rise of 7.3 percent (26,000 ha).

Of the land in foreign ownership in Australia, 26.2 percent of it is now in Tasmania, putting it ahead of the Northern Territory on 25.8 percent and Western Australia on 17 percent. NT was the highest in 2019, home to 27.7 percent of foreign-held land.

Livestock remains by far the dominant use for foreign-owned agricultural land, with 45.3 million ha. This was an increase of 1.9 percent on 2019.

Crops remain the second-most widespread use with 1.9 million ha, but have proved increasingly popular for foreign investors, with the amount of foreign-held land used for cropping rising by 8.8 percent on the previous years figures.

Forestry was third on 1.4 million ha, a rise of 2.5 percent, retaining its place from 2019. Land use was unreported for 3.2 million ha this year, down 0.9 percent.

The figures for land ownership by country were again split into leasehold and freehold land, after this was done for the first time in 2019.

Interests from the Netherlands owned the most freehold land at 1.65 million ha, the same as last year. China topped the leasehold table with 8.4 million ha, a very small increase on 2019.

China has also pulled ahead when aggregating total freehold and leasehold ownership interests, remaining on the same 2.4 percent of total foreign-held land that it had in 2019. UK interests have reduced their ownership of land, however, falling to 8.2 million ha to own 2.1 percent of total foreign-held land, down from 2.4 percent last year.

The Netherlands remained in third and the US was still fourth, with Canadian interests moving into fifth place just behind them, a reflection of Canadian institutional investors’ continuing appetite for Australian farmland.

The Register of Foreign Ownership of Water Entitlements, which was published simultaneously with the register of land ownership last year, has not yet been published for the period ending June 30, 2020.