IT MIGHT not seem cheap to the average Australian farmer, but almost nowhere in the world offers better graingrowing value than a hectare of cropping country in Australia.
The cost of the land required to grow a tonne of Australian wheat averaged below $US900 in the period between 2005 and 2011 - the second lowest (behind Hungary) in a global study of 14 significant farmland marketplaces.
Costs in the US, Brazil, Britain and New Zealand were near or above $US2500/t and topped the list in Denmark at about $US3800 according to research compiled last year by UK-based property marketers Savills.
The Savills study, released in August, goes a long way to explaining why Australia is increasingly popular as an investment target for overseas capital.
"It highlights what many overseas strategic investment groups have been awake to for some time - Australia is a sleeping giant in value," said NSW-based rural property sales specialist Philip Jarvis.
"It costs about $1000 to grow a tonne of wheat in NSW at Dubbo or Wagga Wagga, but $6000 in Iowa in the US Midwest."
Savills also rated Australia second highest in a global farmland index score which balanced yields and investment returns with the economic, agronomic and infrastructure risks of investing in farmland in different parts of the world.
Unlike many countries considered politically and economically safe to invest in, the international real estate firm's rural land analysts said Australian values were coupled with good productive earning capacity.
"With the exception of farms located close to major cities, Australia still offers a rural land investment environment where land values are supported by their respective earnings potential in a safe environment relative to today's political and economic turmoil," said Western Australian consultant to the study, Richard Price.
Mr Price said new productive irrigated farmland was being still being opened up in some parts of Australia, unlike most of the developed world where farming was subject to tightening land use limits.
He noted Western Australia's wheatbelt (an area equivalent to the landmass of Britain) was also worthy of overseas investor attention given it exported 90 per cent of its grain production and developing Asia was close by.
Although last year's WA farmland values eased, returns on land capital of 4.2 to 20.1pc in medium to high rainfall areas in the past decade had helped drive a doubling, and even trebling, in farm prices.
The average cost of buying enough land to grow a tonne of wheat in WA ranged from $US850 to $US1150 at Geraldton to $US1300 at Wongan Hills.
Savills' index showed South Australia's Yorke Penininsula as having our most expensive wheat country - $US1500 to $US1700/t, or just above the average for Canada, Poland and Romania.
Despite farmland values up by 11 to 15pc in Australia in 2011-12 to average $1606/ha and 29pc in NZ to $24,488/ha, both were just below the global index average for the previous eight years.
The federal government has just issued a reminder that the cut-off date for submissions on the design of a national foreign ownership register for agricultural land is tomorrow (February 1).
Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig has urged public input on how a register could comprehensively monitor the size and location of foreign-owned farm holdings.
Information about the foreign investment register can be found at www.treasury.gov. au/Consultatio nsandReviews/Submissions/2012/agr icultural-land