Sparked by the conjunction of food, fuel, and financial crises, there has been an increasing awareness in recent years of the scarce and finite character of natural resources. Productive resources such as agricultural land have been touted by financial actors—such as merchant banks, pension funds, and investment companies—as providing the basis for a range of new “alternative” financial asset classes and products. While the drivers, motives, and rationales behind the increasing interest of turning farmland into a financial asset class have been traced by a number of scholars, the interpretations of, and interactions with, financial actors at the community level have received less attention. Based on qualitative research in rural Australia, this paper reveals the grounds on which finance-backed investments have been accepted and accommodated by communities in rural Australia and delineates the reasons that have led to feelings of unease or refusal. The paper thereby demonstrates that the financialization of farmland is neither abstract nor one-sided but rather a multidimensional process that not only includes financial actors but also the impacted rural populations in various ways. Positioning the activities of financial actors in Australia within the emerging research on the financialization of farmland, the paper endorses context-sensitive analyses to better interpret these recent transformations of the agri-food system.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
This paper presents context-specific insights from an international research project investigating the financialization of agriculture in Australia and further comparative contexts. It has been funded by Australian Research Council Discovery Grants (Project Nos. DP 110102299 and DP 160101318).
Twynam Agricultural Group is a family-owned corporation and has been a major rural land holder in Australia for the past three decades. It began divesting its agricultural land and waters holdings around 2007. The divestment included the AUD 303 million sale of water rights to the Federal Government in 2009, followed by a shift into urban and regional property and development (Kitney 2013).
Clyde Agriculture is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Swire Group, a UK-based transnational corporation (John Swire and Sons Ltd. 2012). For the last 20 years, Clyde has been a major landholder of agricultural properties in Australia. Like Twynam, following the financial crisis of 2008, the Swire Group began withdrawing from the agricultural sector. According to Clyde, this decision was “based on an exceptional combination of circumstances, including high commodity prices and the best seasonal conditions seen in a decade” (Clyde Agriculture 2011–2012, n.p.). Sources in the region also suggested that the decision was related to losses the company incurred during the drought period and a desire to “realize on the company’s assets” when prices recovered.
The equivalent of some 110,000 hectares; this figure was calculated using the publically available sales figures on purchases by these actors alongside data on land holdings gathered during interviews. The number of non-urban hectares used in this calculation was 996,000 hectares (Pritchard et al. 2012b, p. 338). Research further covered Hassad Australia’s land purchases in the neighbouring Narromine shire, where one property has been grouped together from what were originally four properties (two of them previously owned by corporate and two by private owners).
All names used for interviewees in this paper are pseudonyms.
ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics). 2012. Australian farming and farmers. http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4102.0Main+Features10Dec+2012. Accessed 7 April 2016.
Ariza-Montobbio, P., S. Lele, G. Kallis, and J. Martínez-Alier. 2010. The political ecology of Jatropha plantations for biodiesel in Tamil Nadu, India. Journal of Peasant Studies 37(4): 875–897. doi:10.1080/03066150.2010.512462.
Arrighi, G. 1994. The long twentieth century: Money, power, and the origins of our times. London/New York: Verso.
Barlow, K., and C. Cocklin. 2003. Reconstructing rurality and community: Plantation forestry in Victoria, Australia. Journal of Rural Studies 19: 503–519. doi:10.1016/S0743-0167(03)00029-9.
Baud, C., and C. Durand. 2012. Financialization, globalization and the making of profits by leading retailers. Socio-Economic Review 10(2): 241–266. doi:10.1093/ser/mwr016.
Berry, H.L., L.C. Botterill, G. Cockfield, and N. Ding. 2016. Identifying and measuring agrarian sentiment in regional Australia. Agriculture and Human Values. doi:10.1007/s10460-016-9684-5.
Borras, S.M.J., and J. Franco. 2013. Global land grabbing and political reactions “from below”. Third World Quarterly 34(9): 1723–1747. doi:10.1080/01436597.2013.843845.
Broadbent, J., and B. Pritchard. 2011. Is farmland “up for grabs”? Patterns of land ownership in rural NSW. Farm Policy Journal 8(2): 11–19.
Brunson, M.W. 1993. “Socially acceptable” forestry: What does it imply for ecosystem management? Western Journal of Applied Forestry 8(4): 116–119.
Bryant, L. 1999. The detraditionalization of occupational identities in farming in South Australia. Sociologia Ruralis 39(2): 236–261. doi:10.1111/1467-9523.00104.
Burch, D., and G. Lawrence. 2013. Financialization in agri-food supply chains: Private equity and the transformation of the retail sector. Agriculture and Human Values 30(2): 247–258. doi:10.1007/s10460-009-9219-4.
Burch, D., and G. Lawrence. 2009. Towards a third food regime: Behind the transformation. Agriculture and Human Values 26(4): 267–279. doi:10.1007/s10460-009-9219-4.
Carroll, M.S., Á.N. Dhubháin, and C.G. Flint. 2011. Back where they once belonged? Local response to afforestation in Country Kerry. Ireland. Sociologia Ruralis 51(1): 35–53. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9523.2010.00523.x.
CEWO (Commonwealth Environmental Water Office). 2015. Macquarie catchment. http://www.environment.gov.au/water/cewo/catchment/macquarie. Accessed 5 November 2015.
Cheshire, L., and M. Woods. 2013. Globally engaged farmers as transnational actors: Navigating the landscape of agri-food globalization. Geoforum 44: 232–242. doi:10.1016/j.geoforum.2012.09.003.
Christophers, B. 2015. The limits to financialization. Dialogues in Human Geography 5(2): 183–200. doi:10.1177/2043820615588153.
Christopherson, S., R. Martin, and J. Pollard. 2013. Financialisation: Roots and repercussions. Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society 6: 351–357. doi:10.1093/cjres/rst023.
Clapp, J. 2014. Financialization, distance, and global food politics. Journal of Peasant Studies 41(5): 797–814. doi:10.1080/03066150.2013.875536.
Clapp, J., and E. Helleiner. 2012. Troubled futures? The global food crisis and the politics of agricultural derivatives regulation. Review of International Political Economy 19(2): 181–207. doi:10.1080/09692290.2010.514528.
Clapp, J., S.R. Isakson, and O. Visser. 2016. The complex dynamics of agriculture as a financial asset: Introduction to symposium. Agriculture and Human Values. doi:10.1007/s10460-016-9682-7.
Clyde Agriculture. 2011–2012. Home: The sale of Clyde agriculture. http://clydeag.com.au/index.shtml. Accessed 2 March 2012.
Cocklin, C., J. Dibden, and N. Mautner. 2006. From market to multifunctionality? Land stewardship in Australia. The Geographical Journal 172(3): 197–205. doi:10.1111/j.1475-4959.2006.00206.x.
Cotula, L. 2012. The international political economy of the global land rush: A critical appraisal of trends, scale, geography, and drivers. Journal of Peasant Studies 39(3–4): 649–680. doi:10.1080/03066150.2012.674940.
Daniel, S. 2012. Situating private equity capital in the land grab debate. Journal of Peasant Studies 39(3–4): 703–729. doi:10.1080/03066150.2012.674941.
Desmarais, A.A., D. Qualman, A. Magnan, and N. Wiebe. 2015. Land grabbing and land concentration: Mapping changing patterns of farmland ownership in three rural communities in Saskatchewan. Canada. Canadian Food Studies 2(1): 16–47. doi:10.15353/cfs-rcea.v2i1.52.
DIPNR (Department of Infrastructure, Planning, and Natural Resources). 2004. A guide to the water sharing plan for the Macquarie and Cudgegong regulated rivers water source. Sydney.
Dixon, M. 2014. The land grab, finance capital, and food regime restructuring: The case of Egypt. Review of African Political Economy 41(140): 232–248. doi:10.1080/03056244.2013.831342.
Ducastel, A., and W. Anseeuw. 2016. Agriculture as an asset class: Reshaping the South African farming sector. Agriculture and Human Values (published online 18 January 2016). doi: 10.1007/s10460-016-9683-6.
Edelman, M., C. Oya, and S.M.J. Borras. 2013. Global land grabs: Historical processes, theoretical and methodological implications, and current trajectories. Third World Quarterly 34(9): 1517–1531. doi:10.1080/01436597.2013.850190.
Elliott, J. 2005. Using narrative in social research: Qualitative and quantitative approaches. London/Thousand Oaks/New Delhi: Sage.
Epstein, G. 2005. Introduction: Financialization and the world economy. In Financialization and the world economy, ed. G. Epstein, 3–16. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.
Eves, C., and M. Painter. 2008. A comparison of farmland returns in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and United States. Australian and New Zealand Property Journal 1(7): 588–598.
Fairbairn, M. 2014. “Like gold with yield”: Evolving intersections between farmland and finance. Journal of Peasant Studies 41(5): 777–795. doi:10.1080/03066150.2013.873977.
Finlayson, A. 2009. Financialization, financial literacy, and asset-based welfare. The British Journal of Politics and International Relations 11: 400–421. doi:10.1111/j.1467-856X.2009.00378.x.
Flyvbjerg, B. 2001. Making social science matter. Why social inquiry fails and how it can succeed again. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Gertel, J., and S.R. Sippel. 2016. The financialization of agriculture and food. In International handbook of rural studies, ed. M. Shucksmith, and D.L. Brown, 215–226. London: Routledge.
Gray, I., and G. Lawrence. 2001. A future for regional Australia: escaping global misfortune. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Gunnoe, A. 2014. The political economy of institutional landownership: Neorentier society and the financialization of land. Rural Sociology 79(4): 478–504. doi:10.1111/ruso.12045.
Hall, R., M. Edelman, S.M.J. Borras, I. Scoones, B. White, and W. Wolford. 2015. Resistance, acquiescence or incorporation? An introduction to land grabbing and political reactions “from below”. Journal of Peasant Studies 42(3–4): 467–488. doi:10.1080/03066150.2015.1036746.
Hall, S. 2011. Geographies of money and finance II: Financialization and financial subjects. Progress in Human Geography 36(3): 403–411. doi:10.1177/0309132511403889.
Hassad Australia. 2015. Properties and production focus. http://www.hassad.com.au/Properties.aspx. Accessed 16 October 2015.
Hassad Food. 2011. Inspired for success. Annual report 2010. Doha.
Hassad Food. n.d. Investors. http://www.hassad.com/Aboutus/invstors/tabid/187/language/en-US/Default.aspx. Accessed 30 July 2014.
Hersperger, A.M., M.-P. Gennaio, P.H. Verburg, and M. Bürgi. 2010. Linking land change with driving forces and actors: Four conceptual models. Ecology and Society 15(4): Art. 1. http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol15/iss4/art1/. Accessed 1 April 2016.
HighQuest Partners. 2010. Private financial sector investment in farmland and agricultural infrastructure. OECD Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries Working Papers 33, OECD Publishing.
Isakson, S.R. 2015. Derivatives for development? Small-farmer vulnerability and the financialization of climate risk management. Journal of Agrarian Change 15(4): 569–580. doi:10.1111/joac.12124.
Isakson, S.R. 2014. Food and finance: The financial transformation of agro-food supply chains. Journal of Peasant Studies 41(5): 749–775. doi:10.1080/03066150.2013.874340.
Jepps, L. 2015. Revision to the foreign investment regime in Australia. http://www.ah.com.au/_uploads/documents/Revision%20to%20the%20Foreign%20Investment%20Regime%20in%20Australia.pdf. Accessed 28 March 2016.
John Swire & Sons Ltd. 2012. About Swire headquarters. http://www.swire.com/eng/about/headquarters.htm. Accessed 2 March 2012.
Keogh, M. 2014a. Optimizing Australian agriculture’s comparative advantage. Farm Policy Journal 11: 1–7.
Keogh, M., and Tomlinson, A. 2014. Australia has an open door for foreign investment, but voters hold the keys. http://www.farminstitute.org.au/newsletter/2014/February_2014/February_2014_featurearticle.html. Accessed 22 February 2016.
Kitney, D. 2013. Twynam hangs urban hopes on hybrid house. The Australian Business Review. http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/property/twynam-hangs-urban-hopes-on-hybrid-house/story-fn9656lz-1226594300648. Accessed 30 July 2015.
Krippner, G.R. 2011. Capitalizing on crisis: The political origins of the rise of finance. Boston, MA: Harvard University Press.
Krippner, G.R. 2005. The financialization of the American economy. Socio-Economic Review 3(2): 173–208. doi:10.1093/SER/mwi008.
Kuns, B., O. Visser, and A. Wästfelt. 2016. The stock market and the steppe: The challenges faced by stock-market financed, Nordic farming ventures in Russia and Ukraine. Journal of Rural Studies 45: 199–217.
Lang, T., and M. Heasman. 2015. Food wars: The global battle for mouths, minds, and markets, 2nd ed. Oxon: Routledge.
Langley, P. 2008. The everyday life of global finance: Saving and borrowing in Anglo-America. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Langley, P. 2006. The making of investor subjects in Anglo-American pensions. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 24: 919–934. doi:10.1068/d405t.
Larder, N. 2015. Space for pluralism? Examining the Malibya land grab. Journal of Peasant Studies 42(3–4): 839–858. doi:10.1080/03066150.2015.1029461.
Larder, N., S.R. Sippel, and G. Lawrence. 2015. Finance capital, food security narratives, and Australian agricultural land. Journal of Agrarian Change 15(4): 592–603. doi:10.1111/joac.12108.
Lawrence, G., and H. Campbell. 2014. Neoliberalism in the antipodes: Understanding the influence and limits of the neoliberal political project. In The neoliberal regime in the agri-food sector: Crisis, resilience, and restructuring, ed. S.A. Wolf, and A. Bonanno, 263–283. London: Routledge.
Lawrence, G., C. Richards, and K. Lyons. 2013. Food security in Australia in an era of neoliberalism, productivism, and climate change. Journal of Rural Studies 29: 30–39. doi:10.1016/j.jrurstud.2011.12.005.
Leyshon, A., and N. Thrift. 1998. Reading financial services: Texts, consumers, and financial literacy. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 16: 29–55. doi:10.1068/d160029.
Leyshon, A., S. French, and P. Signoretta. 2008. Financial exclusion and the geography of bank and building society branch closure in Britain. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 33(4): 447–465. doi:10.1111/j.1475-5661.2008.00323.x.
Li, T.M. 2015. Transnational farmland investment: A risky business. Journal of Agrarian Change 15(4): 560–568. doi:10.1111/joac.12109.
Li, T.M. 2014. What is land? Assembling a resource for global investment. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 39(4): 589–602. doi:10.1111/tran.12065.
Luyt, I., N. Santos, and A. Carita. 2013. Emerging investment trends in primary agriculture: A review of equity funds and other foreign-led investments in the CEE and CIS Region. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
Magnan, A. 2015. The financialization of agri-food in Canada and Australia: Corporate farmland and farm ownership in the grains and oilseed sector. Journal of Rural Studies 41: 1–12. doi:10.1016/j.jrurstud.2015.06.007.
Magnan, A. 2012. New avenues of farm corporatization in the prairie grains sector: Farm family entrepreneurs and the case of One Earth Farms. Agriculture and Human Values 29: 161–175. doi:10.1007/s10460-011-9327-9.
Martin, R. 2002. Financialization of daily life. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.
Martin, S., and J. Clapp. 2015. Finance for agriculture or agriculture for finance? Journal of Agrarian Change 15(4): 549–559. doi:10.1111/joac.12110.
McKenzie, F. 2014. Trajectories of change in rural landscapes: The end of the mixed farm? In Rural change in Australia: population, economy, environment, ed. R. Dufty-Jones, and J. Connell, 151–167. Aldershot: Ashgate.
McManus, P., J. Walmsley, N. Argent, S. Baum, L. Bourke, J. Martin, B. Pritchard, and T. Sorensen. 2012. Rural community and rural resilience: What is important to farmers in keeping their country towns alive? Journal of Rural Studies 28(1): 20–29. doi:10.1016/j.jrurstud.2011.09.003.
McMichael, P. 2012. The land grab and corporate food regime restructuring. Journal of Peasant Studies 39(3–4): 681–701. doi:10.1080/03066150.2012.661369.
Mercer, A., K. de Rijke, and W. Dressler. 2014. Silences in the boom: Coal seam gas, neoliberalizing discourse, and the future of regional Australia. Journal of Political Ecology 21: 279–302.
Murphy, S., D. Burch, and J. Clapp. 2012. Cereal secrets: The world’s largest grain traders and global agriculture. Oxfam: Oxfam Research Report.
MDBA (Murray-Darling Basin Authority). 2010. Guide to the proposed Basin Plan. http://www.mdba.gov.au/kid/guide/. Accessed 15 October 2015.
Ouma, S. 2016. From financialization to operations of capital: Historicizing and disentangling the finance–farmland-nexus. Geoforum 72: 82–93. doi:10.1016/j.geoforum.2016.02.003.
Painter, M., and C. Eves. 2008. The financial gains from adding farmland to an international investment portfolio. Journal of Real Estate Portfolio Management 14(1): 63–73.
Paraway Pastoral. 2016. http://www.parawaypastoral.com/about/. Accessed 1 April 2016.
Pike, A., and J. Pollard. 2010. Economic geographies of financialization. Economic Geography 86(1): 29–51. doi:10.1111/j.1944-8287.2009.01057.x.
Plunkett, B. 2015. PrimeAg Australia 2007–13: A suitable structure for long term investment in agriculture? Australasian Agribusiness Review 23: 26–35.
Pollard, J. 2013. Gendering capital: Financial crisis, financialization, and (an agenda for) economic geography. Progress in Human Geography 37(3): 403–423. doi:10.1177/0309132512462270.
PRD Nationwide. 2012. Foreign ownership of primary production land in NSW. First Quarter 2012.
Pritchard, B., D. Burch, and G. Lawrence. 2007. Neither “family” nor “corporate” farming: Australian tomato growers as farm family entrepreneurs. Journal of Rural Studies 23: 75–87. doi:10.1016/j.jrurstud.2006.04.001.
Pritchard, B., M. Neave, D. Hickey, and L. Troy. 2012a. Rural land in Australia: A framework for the measurement and analysis of nationwide patterns of ownership change, aggregation, and fragmentation. Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation Publication No. 12/038.
Pritchard, B., M. Neave, D. Hickey, and L. Troy. 2012b. Rural land in New South Wales: spatial patterns of ownership change, aggregation, and fragmentation. Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation Publication No. 12/128.
Remund, D.L. 2010. Financial literacy explicated: The case for a clearer definition in an increasingly complex economy. The Journal of Consumer Affairs 44(2): 276–295. doi:10.1111/j.1745-6606.2010.01169.x.
Russi, L. 2013. Hungry capital: The financialization of food. Winchester/Washington: Zero Books.
Salerno, T. 2014. Capitalizing on the financialization of agriculture: Cargill’s land investment techniques in the Philippines. Third World Quarterly 35(9): 1709–1727. doi:10.1080/01436597.2014.971567.
Sanyal, K. 2014. Foreign investment in Australian agriculture. http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/download/library/prspub/3006295/upload_binary/3006295.pdf;fileType=application%2Fpdf. Accessed 22 February 2016.
Savills Research. 2012. International farmland: Focus 2012. London: Savills.
Schweinsberg, S.C., S.L. Wearing, and S. Darcy. 2012. Understanding communities’ views of nature in rural industry renewal: the transition from forestry to nature-based tourism in Eden, Australia. Journal of Sustainable Tourism 20(2): 195–213. doi:10.1080/09669582.2011.596278.
Scoones, I., R. Hall, S.M.J. Borras, and W. Wolford. 2013. The politics of evidence: methodologies for understanding the global land rush. Journal of Peasant Studies 40(3): 469–483. doi:10.1080/03066150.2013.801341.
Sippel, S.R. 2015. Food security or commercial business? Gulf State investments in Australian agriculture. Journal of Peasant Studies 42(5): 981–1001. doi:10.1080/03066150.2014.990448.
Sippel, S.R., G. Lawrence, and D. Burch. forthcoming 2016. The financialization of farming: The Hancock company of Canada and its embedding in rural Australia. In Rural change and global processes, ed. M. Miele, V. Higgins, H. Bjørkhaug, and M. Truninger. Bingley: Emerald.
Sommerville, M., and A. Magnan. 2015. “Pinstripes on the prairies”: Examining the financialization of farming systems in the Canadian prairie provinces. Journal of Peasant Studies 42(1): 119–144. doi:10.1080/03066150.2014.990894.
The Treasury. 2015. Government tightens rules on foreign purchases of agricultural land. Media Release, 11 February 2015. http://jbh.ministers.treasury.gov.au/media-release/005-2015/. Accessed 15 October 2015.
TIAA-CREF (Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America–College Retirement Equities Fund). 2015. Responsible investment in farmland. 2015 report on ethical conduct and responsible stewardship of the environment. https://www.tiaa.org/public/pdf/C26304_2015_Farmland_Report.pdf. Accessed 1 April 2016.
Van der Zwan, N. 2014. Making sense of financialization. Socio-Economic Review 12: 99–129. doi:10.1093/ser/mwt020.
Visser, O., J. Clapp, and R. Isakson. 2015. Introduction to a symposium on global finance and the agri-food sector: Risk and regulation. Journal of Agrarian Change 15(4): 541–548. doi:10.1111/joac.12123.
WAAM (Westchester Agriculture Asset Management). 2016. Company profile. http://www.wgimglobal.com/company-profile. Accessed 2 March 2016.
WAAM (Westchester Agriculture Asset Management). 2014. Global Thoughts: 4(2), Champaign.
WAAM (Westchester Agriculture Asset Management). 2011. Global Thoughts: 1(2), Champaign.
WSC (Warren Shire Council). 2015. Warren Shire Council, Community Profile. http://www.communityprofile.com.au/warren/. Accessed 15 October 2015.
Williams, T. 2007. Empowerment of whom and for what? Financial literacy education and the new regulation of consumer financial services. Law and Policy 29(2): 226–256. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9930.2007.00254.x.
Williams, K.J.H. 2011. Relative acceptance of traditional and non-traditional rural land uses: Views of residents in two regions, southern Australia. Landscape and Urban Planning 103: 55–63. doi:10.1016/j.landurbplan.2011.05.012.
Williams, J.W. 2014. Feeding finance: A critical account of the shifting relations between finance, food and farming. Economy and Society 43(3): 401–431. doi:10.1080/03085147.2014.892797.
Williams, K.J.H., and J. Schirmer. 2012. Understanding the relationship between social change and its impacts: The experience of rural land use change in south-eastern Australia. Journal of Rural Studies 28: 538–548. doi:10.1016/j.jrurstud.2012.05.002.
Wilson, G.A. 2008. From “weak” to “strong” multifunctionality: Conceptualizing farm-level multifunctional transitional pathways. Journal of Rural Studies 24: 367–383.
Wilson, G.A. 2001. From productivism to post-productivism … and back again? Exploring the (un)changed natural and mental landscapes of European agriculture. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 26: 77–102.
We thank the two anonymous reviewers and the editor of this journal for their constructive comments and helpful suggestions. The research presented in this paper was part-funded by the Australian Research Council (Project Nos. DP 110102299 and DP 160101318). The fieldwork was part-funded by an LDPI small grant Dr. Sarah Ruth Sippel received from the International Institute of Social Studies, Erasmus University Rotterdam. Emeritus Professor Lawrence was part-funded by the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF-2010-330-00159) and the Norwegian Research Council (FORFOOD Project No 220691).
About this article
Cite this article
Sippel, S.R., Larder, N. & Lawrence, G. Grounding the financialization of farmland: perspectives on financial actors as new land owners in rural Australia. Agric Hum Values 34, 251–265 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10460-016-9707-2