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Grazing land values in outback Queensland dramatically increase despite years of drought

Eric Barker, Monday October 8, 2018 - 08:43 EDT
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Grazier Rick Britton says land values in his area have increased dramatically, but so have government fees. - ABC

Despite being officially drought declared since 2013, outback grazier Rick Britton's land values have increased dramatically in the last three years.

He owns about 400,000 acres of grazing land in the far western Queensland shire of Boulia, where he is the local mayor.

Even though he is running only about a third of his property's carrying capacity this year, his land values have increased by more than 20 per cent, and with it government fees are up.

"The land rental it's going to go up 10 or 15 per cent, which is going to be more cash out of our kitty to handle the drought," Cr Britton said.

Like several properties in the Boulia Shire, Cr Britton's land is on a rental agreement with the Queensland Government for which the rates are based on the value of the property.

"[It's] the cost of it is now what we're spending on weed control. You're talking $40,000-$50,000," he said.

Grazing land a sellers market

While most of western Queensland has been drought declared for more than four years, there was unseasonal winter rain in 2016 which provided some relief.

Rural property valuer Lachlan Dunsdon said the patchy rain allowed several properties to present for sale.

"It's very surprising that the level of demand has continued to be as strong as it is, despite the season," Mr Dunsdon said.

"If a property can present readily for sale, full of grass or full of a crop, then coupled with that current strong demand the property sells and generally sells very well.

"Across the board I would say that the market is still thinly traded and the demand still outweighs that supply."

Rick Britton is one of those graziers who has purchased more land in the past couple of years.

He bought a neighbouring property at what he considered a premium price, increasing the scale of his operation and possibly the valuations in his area.

"The land has increased and we've had to pay that little bit extra than everyone else," he said.

"We bought that block in winter 2016 and we payed $35 an acre for it and probably the best then would have been $25 to $28.

"Not only did that property go up but every other property that we owned would have increased by 20 to 25 per cent."

Push to move away from valuation for rent

While Cr Britton has expanded his operations and paid premium prices for neighbouring land, he would like to see the land rental system change to a model based on the production of the land.

"The valuation of the land going isn't increasing the carrying capacity of those properties," he said.

"It should be calculated on the true carrying capacity of those properties and not the valuation of it."

Rural lobby group Agforce have also been pushing for a change in the way the Queensland Government charges its leasehold land rental.

"We still to this day don't think [land valuation] is a fair basis to be used," Agforce policy specialist Lauren Hewitt said.

"In the last year we've seen the Northern Territory Government move away from using 'unimproved' values because they don't think that's a fair and reasonable basis to set rents for leasehold land."

In response, a spokesman for the Queensland Department of Natural Resources Mines and Energy said there were land rental concessions for the drought.

"To support rural leaseholders doing it tough in the drought, the Government has deferred payment of the 2018/19 annual rents for drought declared rural leases," the spokesman said.

"[The Government is] also offering a 15 per cent rebate on their annual rent if it is more than $261 a year."


© ABC 2018

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