Australian farm registry reveals

Nearly 15 per cent of Australian farmland owned by foreigners

A new Australian farm registry revealed that nearly 15 per cent of rural land is now foreign owned, with UK investors dominating and Chinese a distant fifth.

The registry's data on Chinese ownership, should put at rest fears over threats to Australia's food security, say commentators.

Ownership of Australian farmland had become a sensitive issue in Australia, which is among the world's biggest agricultural exporters, since foreign buyers snapped up properties to leverage a boom in Asian food demand.

The proposed sale of Australia's biggest agricultural land holding by S Kidman Co to Chinese investors, was blocked in April on grounds of national interest.

"There is a perception that the industry is swamped by Chinese or Asian investment, and this report proves that this isn't the case," said Tony Mahar, chief executive officer of the largest rural industry body, the National Federation of Farmers, Reuters reported.

"There is a feeling that all foreign investment is bad but we need to start telling the story about what the benefits have been," said Mahar.

Meanwhile, China had warned Australia against "protectionist" policies aborted $10 billion sale of the country's biggest energy grid to Chinese bidders failed over security concerns.

Chinese interests controlled less than 0.38 per cent  of Australian agricultural land, ranking behind the US, the Netherlands and Singapore, treasurer Scott Morrison said. He added that only a fifth of those holdings were owned outright, with the rest under lease agreements.

''With more than A$3 trillion [US$2.3 trillion] worth of foreign investment in Australia today, we cannot afford to risk our economic future by engaging in protectionism,'' Morrison said in a statement.

China had become the largest investor in Australia's agricultural sector during the financial year ended June 2014, a report from the country's Foreign Investment Review Board revealed. The country poured in A$632 million, almost twice as much as the year before in the investment.