Bernie Byrnes awarded Nuffield Farming Scholarship

Irrespective of production challenges and the return on investment, farmland has continued to appreciate in value.

"Common investment logic says farmland should only go up when people create operational or financial efficiencies and get a higher return, but this hasn't been reflective of the market behaviour," Bernie Byrnes said.

Bernie Byrnes of 'Fairview", Gunning receives Nuffield Farming Scholarship for research into land values. Photo courtesy Bernie Byrnes.

Bernie Byrnes of 'Fairview", Gunning receives Nuffield Farming Scholarship for research into land values. Photo courtesy Bernie Byrnes.

Over the next two years, Mr Byrnes of 'Fairview' at Gunning will investigate the current opportunities and risks with purchasing farmland, seeking to identify trends relating to agricultural land values and lease rates.

He is one of seven young primary producers recently awarded the Nuffield Farming Scholarship for 2020, worth $30,000 towards his research.

Mr Byrnes and the other scholars will travel to Japan, Israel, Netherlands, the USA and Singapore; before he continues on a personal journey which could see him travel throughout the USA, Canada, and Eastern Europe.

He will build a framework for how to compare land sales.

"What I'm trying to do is to go to similar countries with similar investment regulations and production areas and see how they are measuring farmland value and financial return on that land, and understand, if past conditions continue - interest rates and seasonality - is it likely it will continue to appreciate at a similar rate?"

He said that currently, Australia has very little public data on land sales. "It's hard to compare two bits of land, you have to strip out the assets and go on productive value of the land.

"In the last 30 to 40 years... people are talking between a 6 to 8 per cent annualised increase in areas from Western Australia across to the east coast. It is reflected in values around our region, we are affected by lifestyle farms, but it's not appreciated at that different a level to other farming areas."

Mr Byrnes grew up in Gunning and has travelled across Australia. He says the same phenomena occur whenever farmland is purchased.

"There is always a level of commentary about whether it was of value, or whether they brought at the top of the market.

"In my experience, we aren't unique. Where we are, as far as land values and appreciation, it is quite common. It is happening in the York Peninsula, the Western Districts of Victoria, and Esperance in WA."

Following his research, Mr Byrnes will publish his findings on whether this behaviour is occurring globally.

"It won't be a black-and-white answer," he said.

"The outcome is to inform existing and new investors as to what the historical behaviour has been to the market... and identifying what the potential risks are to investing."

The 2020 Nuffield Farming Scholars. Photo courtesy Cox Inall.

The 2020 Nuffield Farming Scholars. Photo courtesy Cox Inall.

He said using that information would help younger people and existing investors to assess their ability to service the debt that they are committing to.

Chair of Nuffield's NSW state committee, and 2015 scholar, Andrew Freeth congratulated Mr Byrne and the seven scholars on their achievement, and their collective vision to create a more adaptable and innovative agricultural sector in NSW.

"The NSW agricultural sector has a very positive story to tell," Mr Freeth said.

"I'm excited to see our state represented so well in the cohort of 2020 Nuffield scholars, an outcome reflective of the NSW producers' ability to evolve and excel.

"These seven inspiring scholars are about to start the journey of a lifetime as they travel the world researching some of the biggest issues facing Australia's agricultural industry.

"It's inspiring to see study topics so focused on resilience and sustainability; in particular, the need to responsibly manage the land and ensure the best use of our precious natural resources.

"Equally important is the research focus on boosting productivity through new cropping methods, generating stronger data on land values, accessing new markets and product lines, and better understanding the common threads of success for young producers."

Nuffield Australia has been selecting scholars from primary industries for over 60 years. Today, there are over 400 scholars who have gone on to influence changes to increase productivity, economic development and new industry.

2020 Nuffield Scholars

  • Billy Browning, Narromine
  • James Alexander, Boorowa
  • Jarrod Amery, Forbes
  • Luke Cantrill, Nashdale
  • Richard Quigley, Trangie
  • Tom Hooke, Wanganella