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the need for foreign investment in Australian agriculture

This article was published on the Future Directions International website on Monday 8th September 2014.  It was written by Jack Di Nunzio, FDI Research Analyst, Global Food and Water Crises Research Programme


Unlocking our potential - the need for foreign investment in Australian agriculture


Key Points

Available statistics and recent reports suggest Australian agriculture is experiencing an increase in foreign investment.

Foreign investors, in particular State-owned enterprises (SOEs), are looking to Australia for long-term, low risk agricultural assets and as a channel to supply their growing populations with high quality produce.   

Such investment is essential for Australian agriculture in the absence of domestic capital sources and government support.

Foreign capital brings improved access to overseas markets, needed to meet export growth targets, and can build Australia’s food processing capabilities to ensure domestic food security.

Government policy should focus on balancing the sector’s need for substantial foreign investment while improving the transparency of foreign involvement in key industries.



Foreign investment has reemerged as a prominent issue in Australian agriculture. In line with rising global investment trends, SOEs and foreign multinationals have shown greater interest in Australian agricultural assets. This has led to calls for improved transparency and possible restriction of foreign capital. The greater agricultural community and economists alike, however, champion this influx as an essential tool for the sector’s development in the absence of domestic capital.

Foreign investment - in its many forms -will shape the future sustainability of the sector, which is dealing with issues of high debt and high labour costs. Australian agriculture requires long-term strategies to address these issues, while contending with current sector challenges of high labour rates and under-developed processing facilities. By providing long-term, well-funded and environmentally sustainable investments, foreign agribusinesses and SOEs can be hugely beneficial to the sector.

The presence and operation of such agribusinesses must be monitored, however, in consideration of maintaining domestic food security. The role of Australia’s Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) in this cannot be understated; it plays a significant role in ensuring investments are made according to the national interest. Clear government policy measures must be taken to alleviate public concerns of foreign investment, while delivering more avenues for the production of healthy, ready-to-consume food products for Australians.

- See more at: http://www.futuredirections.org.au/publications/food-and-water-crises/1926-unlocking-our-potential-the-need-for-foreign-investment-in-australian-agriculture.html#_ftn3





Fruit vs Fish to drought-proof our farms


Australian aquaculture company Aquanue says that citrus growers should consider growing fish instead of fruit.

According to Aquanue’s Managing Director, Gareth Lott, land-based aquaculture is more productive than citrus farming by many orders of magnitude.

Aquanue has reviewed data from Primary Industries and Regions SA (PIRSA), the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI), Horticulture Australia, and other sources, and suggests that farming fish in its tank-based system could generate returns per hectare more than 800x the average citrus farm. 

“According to the PIRSA Fresh Citrus Report September 2005 (data based on estimates made by PIRSA in consultation with growers), a conventional citrus farm in the Riverland generates $17,870 revenue per hectare.  A facility occupying a hectare using our system to grow high-value fish for the Chinese market could generate as much as $15,000,000 revenue each year – 839 times the average citrus return form the same amount of land.” according to Lott.

“Our system is a far more efficient user of precious water resources as well” Lott continues. “SARDI data tells us that it can take between 4 and 8 megalitres of water to produce a ton of citrus.  So let’s use 6 megalitres as an average.  That means it takes 6,000 litres of water to produce a kilogram of citrus.  We can produce a kilogram of fish and only consume 70 litres - even as little as 50 litres if the building is properly designed.  That is 0.8% to 1.2% of the water required to produce the same amount of fruit”.

Similar comparisons with other food production sectors show even more attractive numbers.  CSIRO Land and Water scientists revealed the following water requirements:

To produce 1kg of

Water required (litres)

Compared with Aquanue process (approximate)

oven dry wheat grain









Paddy Rice





1,000x – 2,000x

Clean Wool



“Fish can now be farmed on land, in tank systems that use very advanced filtration processes, with much less risk than traditional farming.  Given the growing demand from China, and the pressures faced by our water supply in this country, perhaps it is time to pull up the trees and sell off the cattle” Lott suggests.