Foreign ownership of Australian farmland: 2021 statistics

Foreign farmland ownership in Australia was flat year-on-year, with Chinese entities still topping the list of foreign investors despite a fall in the amount of land they own.

The amount of agricultural land in Australia with some level of foreign ownership stayed broadly flat from a year earlier, according to the latest edition of the Register of Foreign Ownership of Agricultural Land published by the Foreign Investment Review Board.

Reporting data up to June 30, 2021, the register found that land with a level of foreign ownership decreased by 0.1 percent from 53.026 million ha at June 30, 2020, to 52.985 million ha in 2021.

The total proportion of agricultural land with some foreign ownership was estimated at 14.1 percent, up slightly from the figure of 13.8 percent in 2020, although this is partly attributable to the fact that total Australian agricultural land declined year-on-year thanks to the impact of natural disasters over the reporting period, including drought and flooding in New South Wales and Queensland and bushfires in NSW, Queensland and Victoria.

Tasmania again saw the biggest increase in foreign-held agricultural land of any state or territory, with a rise of 5.0 percent (19,000 ha).

Victoria had the next-largest rise, of 4.7 percent (30,000 ha), with Western Australia the only other state or territory to see a material increase, of 3.2 percent (440,000 ha). The other regions were broadly flat or had a reduced amount foreign ownership.

As in previous years, livestock is by the far most dominant use for land with a foreign ownership interest, with 45.2 million ha of the 53.0 million ha total given over for that purpose.

Cropping land stood at 2.0 million ha, up from last year’s total of 1.9 million ha, with forestry in third place on 1.4 million ha, the same total as in 2020.

The ATO splits its figures for the nationalities of foreign entities that own land into freehold and leasehold categories.

China still tops the list of countries when freehold and leasehold land totals are combined, although land holdings held by Chinese entities did fall year-on-year by around 600,000 ha. The UK was in second place, followed by the US in third, with figures for most countries broadly flat.

In freehold land, the Netherlands was the lead foreign investor, with Dutch entities owning a share of 1.7 million ha of land. For leasehold land, China tops the pile, with the amount of land owned falling from 8.4 million ha in 2020 to 7.7 million ha in 2021.