Foreign investors snap up Mid West properties

Haidee VandenbergheCountryman
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Malaysian investors have snapped up three of the Mid West's finest cropping properties in a bid to re-enter the WA farming industry.

Details surrounding the purchases remain under wraps, but a Malaysian corporate is believed to have bought three properties at Northampton, all on Chilimony Road.

The properties are said to include the historic farms Jib Jib and Chilimony and total 15,000 arable hectares.

Sources say the investment group is not new to WA's soils and previously owned properties in the 1960s. It is believed the group intends to aggregate the properties and crop them.

The Malaysian investment is just one in a string of purchases in which international and Australian corporate investors have snapped up parcels of prime cropping land.

That includes the purchase of land at Warralakin by Australian superfund investor Warakirri, which is said to be looking at another parcel of land, and Lawson Grains' purchase of land at Munglinup, said to be worth more than $20 million.

Lawson Grains is part of corporate agriculture giant Macquarie Group.

But while there might seem to be a burst of activity from corporate investors, Corporate Agriculture Australia managing director Gordon Verrall said there was not a "rush" by international investors to snap up WA farmland.

"The total croppable land that has changed hands in terms of hectares is just a small fraction of what's out there," he said. "There's corporate activity, but it's not a rush - more a coincidence of timing that this has happened together."

Mr Verrall said investors weren't hurrying any purchase plans to beat a review into the $231 million limit set by the Foreign Investment Review Board, which currently only examines purchases by international investors greater than that amount.

While there had been talk around whether cashed-up foreign investors would balk at a review into the way purchases are examined, Mr Verrall said for many international investors it was simply business as usual.

"Most groups that have a concern in that regard have just pulled up stumps and aren't investing at all until something is determined," he said.

"Those that have the view the Government won't change the criteria much, they'll do what they need to do and put it before the review board."

Mr Verrall said while some investors were looking at WA land in terms of meeting future food security concerns, they were in the minority.

"A lot of money is still coming out of Western Europe, as opposed to other regions," he said.

"There are some, but not a lot, who have food security factors in mind but I believe the media overplays that angle. Most investors and investor groups are after a good long-term investment to park their money. Agricultural land has proven to be that.

"The actuality is that foreign investment might have a detrimental impact on particular farmers who are looking to aggressively expand in particular areas… but in regards to anyone looking to sell corporates in the market are a big plus.

"There are many farms that have sold, which would not have sold if not for the corporate activity around them. They stabilise the property market, they take a lot of the troughs out, and when it's done well and with the right intent, they are generally good community members."

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