Foreign land grab fears

FEARS of a foreign farm land grab in Australia are unfounded and a public register of overseas agricultural ownership would help alleviate those fears, an international agriculture expert will tell a conference in Canberra on Tuesday.

South Australian agriculture advisor and former World Bank rural advisor Derek Byerlee will give a keynote address on foreign investment to a Crawford Fund conference on "The Scramble for Natural Resources" on Tuesday.

Mr Byerlee will argue that while Australia should be concerned about the potential for investors with deep pockets to buy up large tracts of farm land, pushing up land values; such concerns were "unlikely to materialise".

"In Australia, given our skilled farmers and strong institutions, there seems little reason for concern about recent reports of foreign investment in farmland, beyond the normal reviews required by the Foreign Investment Review Board," he said.

"Australia has led the world in arguing for freer agricultural trade and investment and should continue to do so.

"However, increased transparency through a register of such investments and closer monitoring could alleviate fears in some circles."

He will be one of several eminent agriculture specialists and high level advisors at to speak at the conference, and will lead a panel discussion on foreign investment.Other subjects to be discussed include land use conflicts between mining and agriculture, climate change challenges and balancing rising food demand with the need for sustainable farming practises.

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