Family farms come a cropper in new land of the giants

A premier grain district where flowering canola rises up to the shoulder, Stockinbingal, west of Canberra, is becoming the land of the giants.

A premier grain district where flowering canola rises up to the shoulder, Stockinbingal, west of Canberra, is becoming the land of the giants.

American, Canadian, Arabian and Swiss interests are buying up multiple properties in the area and the handful of Australian family farms that remain want the federal government to intervene.

Farmer Peter Morton and his sons Gregory and Brad are the forgotten voice in the debate about foreign ownership, which is becoming louder since American Archer Daniels Midland's $3.4 billion bid for Australia's biggest agribusiness, GrainCorp.

The Nationals oppose the sale, but Prime Minister Tony Abbott has made it clear he wants more foreign investment. Allowing the takeover to proceed will be one of the first decisions for the Treasurer, Joe Hockey.

Even if control goes offshore, the Coalition is expected to go ahead with its plan for a national register of foreign farmland, while also reducing the threshold so that deals worth from $15 million will need government approval.

American-based Cargill owns GrainCorp's main rival, AWB.

Foreigners are buying up farms and dictating terms of trade with no regard for individuals, Mr Morton said.

Their quest for more land had forced up the price around Stockinbingal to a point where many family farmers couldn't afford to buy out neighbours when they retired.

Across the way, 13 consecutive properties were brought in one swoop.

Mr Morton recounts a buyer announcing last year at Temora he had $15 million to spend if any one was interested.

The Mortons' neighbour John Harper is bewildered that foreigners see more value in GrainCorp than Australians.

"That's why we have all this angst. There's all the great characteristics of being an Aussie farmer in rural Australia, but there is no incentive, no security."

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