Investing in Aussie agriculture makes sense to foreigners

Investing in Aussie ag makes good sense to foreigners

Agribusiness
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After a tumultuous start to 2020, what agriculture needs right now is capital - not grants or handouts - but serious investment in everything from farms to infrastructure

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OPINION

It has been one of the most unpredictable starts we've had to any year, with drought, bushfires and coronavirus altering the business plans of many in the agriculture sector.

But Australian agribusiness is known for its resilience, and will undoubtedly work hard to meet the challenges ahead.

Beef businesses will need to be restocked, crops and orchards and vineyards replanted, trade with China will need to be re-established, alternative markets will need to be developed.

Support will be required at every level of the sector to ensure a swift return to business as usual and beyond.

But most importantly, what the industry needs right now is capital, not grants or handouts but serious capital to invest throughout the sector, from high-performing family farm investment to large infrastructure spending.

Foreign capital pays

Australian agriculture has always relied on foreign capital.

It is patient, long-term capital that has benefited a lot of our most competitive sectors.

Australia's northern beef herd was in large part developed by capital from Europe.

Mark Allison

Mark Allison

Our feedlot capability was developed with Japanese investment, the cotton industry was expanded by capital from the US.

Many of the foreign investors in Australia are sophisticated agriculture investors in other jurisdictions and see value in a southern hemisphere addition to their portfolio.

They understand agriculture's return profile and risks.

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And a nice upside to this capital is that it frequently brings access to new markets - these investors are usually trading partners, who now have a vested interest in the prospects of the sector.

Investing in Australian agriculture is obvious to those abroad - Australia is attractive as a developed, demonstrably competitive producer of agriculture products.

It may be foreign investment that unlocks domestic capital due to one important factor - it creates liquidity in the industry. - Mark Allison

But curiously it has not been so obvious to domestic investors.

Australian superannuation funds have been absent when it comes to investing in agribusiness, and this needs to change if the industry is to realise its full potential.

Ironically, it may be foreign investment that unlocks domestic capital due to one important factor - it creates liquidity in the industry.

To date, domestic funds such as the Future Fund and other major super funds have been reluctant to invest in Australia due to, among other reasons, a lack of liquidity.

Invest with offshore partners

With foreign investors, however, Australian super funds can co-invest with large, like-minded off-shore investors in the comfort that these international entities are there if they need to move on.

Wherever the capital comes from, it needs to arrive as a priority.

The year ahead will be a big one for Agribusiness Australia.

A highlight on the calendar is the CEO Summit in April, where heads of Australia's biggest agribusinesses will come together to tackle the big issues.

The Agribusiness Australia report looks at the current agribusiness climate - from Brexit to the rise of South America, from challenging weather conditions to disease threats - Mark Allison

The summit will coincide with the launch of our State of the industry report, which has a fascinating story to tell.

It looks at the current agribusiness climate - from Brexit to the rise of South America, from challenging weather conditions to disease threats.

It discusses the opportunities in transport and infrastructure, agtech, global trade deals, commodity versus niche, and human resources.

To take advantage of any of these opportunities, there's one continuing key theme - capital.

Attracting capital will no doubt be high on the agenda for anyone involved in agribusiness in Australia this year.

  • Mark Allison is president of Agribusiness Australia and managing director of Elders

The story Investing in Aussie agriculture makes sense to foreigners first appeared on Farm Online.

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