West Australian Agriculture Minister Terry Redman can't shed light on reports a Chinese agricultural giant could buy up to $4 billion worth of prime farmland after snapping up some 30,000 hectares in the past month.
An arm of state-owned conglomerate Beidahuang Group, Heilongjiang Feng Agricultural, wants to buy and lease more than 100,000 hectares to grow grain for export to China, according to a report in The West Australian on Friday.
The company has spent $52 million acquiring farmland in the Great Southern and Wheatbelt regions in the past month as it moves to create a supply chain that operates independently of WA grain handler CBH.
It has bought land near Hyden that had been seized from one of the state's largest grain-growing families, the Joyces, and land near Ongerup.
As talkback callers swamped local Fairfax Radio with polarised views on the foreign investment, the station cited an unnamed real estate agent who said other Chinese companies had bought 11 properties around the Wheatbelt towns of Dowerin and Goomalling, and another 32 were being looked at.
The real estate agent argued the investors were attracted by rail lines that go through the towns, providing a direct path to port.
But Mr Redman said he expected a lot of the reported $4 billion investment would be spent on infrastructure and should be supported in WA, which produced enough food for 13.5 million people and was an export-focused state.
He said he had held no talks with the Chinese company and did not know anything about it beyond the news report.
"I don't see a reason why I need to be in discussion with everyone who's showing interest," he said.
"It does give us confidence in agriculture in Western Australia and where it's going.
"If you look at the countries that have got significant investments here in Australia ... it comes from the US and the UK, and I really don't see any big fearful issues here."
Newdegate farmer Trevor de Landgrafft, former president of the WA Farmers Federation, dismissed the $4 billion claim as "propaganda".
Opposition agriculture spokesman Paul Papalia questioned whether the Heilongjiang deal could turn out with "not much in it for WA".
"The Chinese are clearly moving to secure their own food supply to achieve food security. You've got to ask what the Barnett government is doing to ensure we have food security here in WA?" Mr Papalia told Fairfax Radio.
"We were promised a food bowl in the Ord and there's certainly no food bowl for WA out of the Ord, despite $320 million of taxpayers' money being invested up there."
Earlier this month, Chinese conglomerate Shanghai Zhongfu clinched a $700 million deal to lease more than 13,000 hectares of prized farm land in the Kimberley region for 50 years for sugar production.
Only land purchases are subject to Foreign Investment Review Board consent, which is not needed when foreign entities lease land.
Last month, six Chinese investors paid $15 million for an olive oil company previously owned by two of the state's most prominent business families, the Kailises and the D'Orsognas.