True farmers a rarity on modern 'rich list'

True farmers a rarity on modern 'rich list'


Opinion
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Gina Rinehart, like Andrew "Twiggy" Forrest, hedge-fund founder Sir Michael Hintze and retailer Gerry Harvey, made her fortune elsewhere and then bought farms.

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Gina Rinehart, like Andrew "Twiggy" Forrest, hedge-fund founder Sir Michael Hintze and retailer Gerry Harvey, made her fortune elsewhere and then bought farms.

Gina Rinehart, like Andrew "Twiggy" Forrest, hedge-fund founder Sir Michael Hintze and retailer Gerry Harvey, made her fortune elsewhere and then bought farms.

There's an old joke that farmers often tell, against themselves, concerning the bloke who won Lotto and was asked what he intended to do with his sudden windfall.

"I'll buy a farm and just keep farming until the money's all gone," was his sardonic reply, to which many a modern-day agricultural investor could no doubt relate.

I was reminded of this tongue-in-cheek truism while flipping through the inaugural edition of 'The List - Australia's Richest 250', which was published in March as an insert to The Australian.

The feature continues - or rather, revives - an annual exercise previously undertaken by the former BRW magazine, which first came out with the ground-breaking (and privacy-shattering) 'BRW Rich 100' list in 1983.

And what it highlights, as if we needed reminding, is how little residual wealth in Australia these days owes its origin to farming activity.

Agriculture accounts for 3 per cent of Australia's gross domestic product, with a gross farm-gate value estimated at $60 billion at last count, but it hasn't made a lot of people rich, relative to other sectors.

The 'Richest 250' list is dominated by individuals whose wealth derives from investment, property development, technology, marketing and services.

I was able to spot about 10 individuals in the top 50 who today own substantial rural property, but only two families - the dairying Perich clan of Leppington and the Casella wine family of Griffith - could be said to have built their wealth on agriculture.

All of the others - like miners Gina Rinehart and Andrew "Twiggy" Forrest, hedge-fund founder Sir Michael Hintze and retailer Gerry Harvey - made their fortunes elsewhere and then bought their farms.

The only truly "pastoral" rich-lister in the top 100, coming in at number 76, is John Kahlbetzer, whose once-sprawling Twynam Pastoral Company exited the rural scene as a major player last year.

Former poultry baron Bob Ingham also makes it into the top 100, at number 95.

Among the next 100 entries are the Roche duo, who made their fortune in pharmaceuticals before buying the former Wright properties, Wallamumbi and Jeogla, at Armidale, and Garry Rothwell, who has owned a succession of NSW grazing properties as a sideline to his Winten property development "day job".

It's not until you reach number 219 that you find a genuine what-you-might-call "old money" pastoral name, in the shape of Hugh McLachlan and family of aptly named Jumbuck Pastoral.

Further down, at number 235, we find Roger Fletcher, the mega-sheepmeat processor who started out as a drover and sheep punter and now, having come full circle, owns a swag of properties in north-west NSW.

In short, there are ample good and fulfilling reasons to go farming, but there are easier routes to becoming a billionaire!

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