Seven years after Chinese textile giant Shandong Ruyi bought 80 per cent of Cubbie Station, the company last week finalised negotiations to sell down its stake. The sale to the Chinese conglomerate was only approved on the provision the company reduce its ownership stake to 51 per cent. A Macquarie-run agricultural fund has since acquired a 49 per cent stake in the country’s largest cotton farm.
While Australian ownership is ideal, foreign investment is an important part of Australian agriculture’s investment landscape and vital to growth and productivity. Last year, while the number of foreign investment approvals dropped slightly from 223 to 201, the quantum of funds invested increased to $7.9 billion, up $900 million from 2016-17.
While the sector continues to rely on foreign investment, investors must think and act beyond just the agricultural business – the community, local spending, employment opportunities and ongoing income for local supply businesses are also important. The foreign owned MSF Sugar recognised this and growers in the Maryborough region acknowledge it as being responsible for revitalising the local industry at a time when there were questions about the region’s long‐term future. By contrast, since the sale of Australia’s largest dairy farm, Van Diemen’s Land Company, to a Chinese company in 2016, there has been a mass resignation by the board, senior management has raised concerns about animal welfare and safety, and the local mayor has called for its sale.
As part of the Cubbie Station deal, Macquarie and Shandong Ruyi have voluntarily agreed to contribute some of their water entitlement to the Culgoa River and the Lower Balonne when it is most needed. A voluntary contribution of up to 50 per cent of the permitted offtake during critical periods with cap of 10 gigalitres has been made. This type of social responsibility commitment demonstrates to locals and overseas investors alike that the right agricultural investments in Australia lead to profitable and productive businesses and communities.