Some more foreign than others

Why does an increasingly more urbanised population care so much about farmland?

Most will never own it nor want to; some may visit a farm but many will never get any closer to one than a trip down State Highway 1 at 100 kph, or faster.

In spite of that they’re very keen to have a say in who the owners can sell it to – or rather not sell it to.

At the moment any sale of five hectares or more of farmland must go before the Overseas Investment Commission if a foreigner wants to buy it.

I don’t have a problem with some oversight over land sales to people from other countries, but why five hectares?

Depending where it is that could be more than enough for at least one thriving horticulture business or not enough to carry a  single stock unit. Why doesn’t the ownership of flat, fertile land where the climate is temperate matter if who owns rough, hilly, less productive land where it blows and snows does?

If you looked at farms from the road you may be able to tell something about the owners’ ability as farmers but I doubt if you’d be able to work out where they came from. Even if you went on to the farms and spoke to managers and staff it probably wouldn’t be obvious if the owners were New Zealanders or not.

I can see why people wouldn’t want all or even most land owned by foreigners and I also understand the danger of vertical integration of the supply chain by foreigners. They can’t take the land with them but they could take the produce and valuable export dollars.

But it doesn’t need a total ban on land sales to foreigners to keep processing and some of the export returns here.

However, the anti-foreign ownership feeling isn’t just about people from overseas. A Curia poll (on which Cactus Kate, Kiwiblog and Whale Oil have commented) shows those asked regarded some people as more foreign than others.

Sixty five percent of people polled wanted land sold only to New Zealand residents. That dropped to 55% if staff were locals; 54% if the owners paid tax here; and 52%  if the extra capital from the owners tripled exports.

But the most telling result was on the question which moved from foreigners in general to specific nationalities. If the buyers were from Australia 18% were extremely uncomfortable and 42% weren’t uncomfortable at all; if the buyers were French 31% were extremely uncomfortable and 24% weren’t at all uncomfortable; if the buyers were Chinese 41% were extremely uncomfortable and 21% weren’t uncomfortable at all; if the buyers were British 23% were extremely uncomfortable and 31% weren’t at all uncomfortable and if the buyers were from the USA 27% were extremely uncomfortable and 24% weren’t uncomfortable at all.

This means that the opposition isn’t necessarily to foreign ownership per se – the strength of feeling varies with where the would-be owners come from.

That explains why the possible sale of the Crafar Farms to Chinese owners has caused an uproar but the actual sale of Big Sky dairy farm in the Maniototo to Harvard University’s global investment fund has hardly raised an eyebrow.

There is some logic in the desire for some control of farm sales to foreigners. But this poll shows that arguments for a total ban on sales to foreigners is based on emotion and one of those emotions is xenophobia.

14 Responses to Some more foreign than others

  1. robertguyton says:

    Bill English made noises about changes to the rules and vetos around the sale of land to foreigners, as did Key ‘We wouldn’t want to be tenants in our own country blah, blah’, then the Big Sky farms went whistling out the door. What empty rhetoric. What a sham.

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  2. robertguyton says:

    Don Nicolson with his comments on selling farmland to foreigners is a threat to the future of farming in New Zealand.

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  3. homepaddock says:

    Any changes mooted by Bill & John would only apply to new applications, not those well through the process as the Big Sky one was when they made the comments.

    I don’t agree with everything Don says and this is one on which we differ.

    P.S. Is there a method to the changing gravatars? I like them both but if I had to choose one over t’other I’d go for the stained glass one.

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  4. JC says:

    The poll also showed rural people could be just as xenophobic as townies, but generally that was weighted more against Chinese.

    Thats not surprising given the long Communist history there and the worlds worst genocide of its own people. Add in stuff like the brutal repression of freedom and the Malamine scandal and I’d be surprised at any different result.

    Other things.. the Chinese have been aggressive in investing in brutal regimes like Zimbabwe and Iran, and in land ventures in Africa that has displaced many people, and used its veto in the UN to protect such regimes.

    Its up to the Chinese to improve that record and perception, not us. Trade.. yes, joint ventures.. yes, but land sales.. only sort of.

    JC

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  5. robertguyton says:

    My ‘carrot’ gravatar was tagged to one email address and the ‘Leunig window’ to another. I can change back and forward by changing my email on your sign-in window.

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  6. homepaddock says:

    JC – there is a case for reciprocal rights – if we can’t buy their land, they can’t buy ours.

    Robert – Luenig is one of the people I’d have on my list should I ever be asked to come up with one for dining companions for a fascinating dinner.

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  7. robertguyton says:

    Ele – if you can get him to scribble something on a napkin, let me know!
    Am I on your list also? 🙂

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  8. homepaddock says:

    “Am I on your list also?” – It’s usually people I’m unlikely to ever meet but it is a big table . . .

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  9. pdogge says:

    memememememememememememememememememe…as long as those Bill n Don people are not opposite 🙂

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  10. robertguyton says:

    People you’re unlikely ever to meet eh … if I make an effort to avoid going kanohi ki te kanohi with you for the rest of my life , I’ll qualify for a seat at your’fascinating’ dinner table…

    …hang on!

    Like

  11. […] Some more foreign than others (via Homepaddock) Why does an increasingly more urbanised population care so much about farmland? Most will never own it nor want to; some may visit a farm but many will never get any closer to one than a trip down State Highway 1 at 100 kph, or faster. In spite of that they're very keen to have a say in who the owners can sell it to – or rather not sell it to. At the moment any sale of five hectares or more of farmland must go before the Overseas Investment Commi … Read More […]

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