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Farmers don't care who owns land - survey

KPMG's Agribusiness Agenda shows restricting the sale of land to foreign investors is not a high priority for industry leaders. 

Caleb Allison
Wed, 30 May 2012

Despite ongoing opposition to the sale of the Crafar farms to Chinese investors, a survey released today shows the people who actually work the land aren't bothered about who owns it.

KPMG interviewed 98 industry leaders for its Agribusiness Agenda, which reveals restricting foreign investment in agriculture land and assets is among their lowest priorities.

Head of Agribusiness Ian Proudfoot told NBR ONLINE industry leaders realise that throughout New Zealand's history, offshore investment has always featured.

"Initially it came from Britain, then Europe, the United States and Australia, and now the Asian countries who have got surplus cash and are looking for good investment opportunities.

"We can't turn our back on foreign investment now. That would be inappropriate just because it's coming from a country where we have less in common than we did with previous investors."

Mr Proudfood says industry leaders expressed concern at an emerging policy framework which seems to put foreign investors off bringing their capital here.

Farmers' main concern around the Crafar farms issue is that if you refuse offshore investors, there are not enough New Zealand buyers to purchase the land, despite claims to the contrary, he says.

"Without those foreign investors to support market prices, the value of the assets the farmers have are worth less in reality.

"Therefore the amount they can borrow goes down and the ability to grow their business is reduced."

The other low-ranking priority for industry leaders was initiating field trials for the use of genetically modified farm systems.

Mr Proudfoot says the lack of interest is surprising, given the opportunities for GM to offer environmental benefits and improved productivity.

"Industry leaders view it as a politically difficult issue that raises an extreme response when it comes up.

"It has been effectively put in the too-hard basket, which could create problems further down the track."

The highest priority, according to the report, was the need for a pan-industry strategy between agriculture, horticulture and forestry, with 81% of leaders interviewed saying this would be beneficial.

Mr Proudfoot says an obvious deficiency is the way we "sell" New Zealand's agriculture industry.

"We spend a lot of time talking about the beauty of our scenery and the natural environment our products are grown in, but we don't actually tell the story of what is the main advantage of our products, which is the safety of what we do.

"If we actually work together to tell that food safety story effectively, we will do better in international markets because people have a better understanding of what New Zealand products stand for."

Mr Proudfoot says food safety is becoming a bigger issue for consumers in our export markets.

"When you look at the Chinese market now, and particularly the segments of that market we're looking to sell into, safety is probably the biggest driver of the purchasing decision, and that will actually take precedence over price."

Caleb Allison
Wed, 30 May 2012
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Farmers don't care who owns land - survey