Queensland Rural Debt Survey

The results of the latest Queensland Rural Debt survey were recently released by QRIDA with some interesting results. The survey has been conducted on and off since 1994 and for the most part, all major financial institutions have been regular contributors. Rural debt is defined as the total indebtedness of all farmers / rural enterprises throughout Queensland, where the servicing of the rural debt relies primarily on rural generated income.

The results from 2019 are provided against the backdrop of on-going drought throughout much of Queensland as well as the monsoon event in the north and north-west part of the state in February 2019.

Survey results

Interestingly, the total rural debt within Queensland grew by 10.75% from 2017 to be $19.10B – but overall the “quality” of the debt as ranked by the financial institutions remained steady with 93% considered A or B+ class. As a sign of the improved financial performance of the industry over the past decade, the same classes of debt represented only 83% of the total in 2009.

In 2011, a standout feature of the Rural Debt Survey (conducted by Bentleys Queensland) was the level of debt relative to the Gross Value of Production (GVP). In 2011, rural debt exceeded GVP by approx. $6B and this differential has continued in 2019. The rural industry as a whole had a debt to GVP ratio in 2011 of approx. 1.46 times and this has only slightly improved in 2019 at approx. 1.37 times. Interestingly though, there have been some major movements within the various industries.

The beef industry had a debt to GVP ratio of 2.66 times in 2011 and while we expect this would have narrowed further at various points in the last 8 years, based on the 2019 survey results this was 2.07 times. The average debt per borrower in the Queensland beef industry has also remained relatively unchanged in 9 years at $1.4M.

The sugar industry has seen the opposite effect on the debt to GVP ratio, moving from 0.85 in 2011 to 1.09 in 2019. The average debt per borrower of $558,000 is the same in 2019 as it was in 2011.

The run of poor seasons for cotton growers is also reflected within the report with the total industry debt declining by 17% (from 2017 – 2019), while the number of borrowers has also declined by a similar percentage. The debt to GVP ratio within the cotton industry has increased from 1.33 times in 2011 to in excess of 4 times in 2019. The obvious reason for this is the low value of production within the state which is due to poor growing conditions and a lack of water in the traditional irrigated cotton growing areas. Unfortunately, insufficient data is provided to make further insights. However, the decline in debt might be due to re-classification of the borrower (into another industry) rather than any physical reduction in the debts borrowed.

Debt held by vegetables growers has declined since 2011, with the total debt held by the industry of $537M versus $595M in 2011. Given the consolidation within the industry, the number of borrowers has also declined from 707 to 558. Significantly, the proportion of “risky” debt (B2 and C grade) increased as a proportion of the total industry debt from less than 2% in 2017 to 10% in 2019. This is an indication that further consolidation within the industry is likely to occur in the future.

The ‘Horticulture – Tree Crop’ industry has seen a 27% increase in total debt since 2017 to $852M. As a further indication of growth, the industry held $577M in debt in 2009, meaning a 47% increase over the decade. Average debt per borrower has only increased by 16% over the same period. The riskiness of the debt in this industry has improved over the past three years with 95% of the debt held in A and B+ class versus 92% in 2017. The industry has been affected by strong export demand for nuts, but has also dealt with the strawberry food safety issue over the past three years.

There are many more insights provided by the survey and it is good source of information for the financial state of rural industry. We encourage all stakeholders to review the survey here.

Sources:

  • QRIDA Rural Debt Survey 2019 full Report
  • QLD AgTrends 2012-13 issued by the Queensland Government
  • QLD AgTrends 2013-14 issued by the Queensland Government
  • QLD AgTrends 2015-16 issued by the Queensland Government
  • QLD AgTrends 2018-19 issued by the Queensland Government
  • QLD AgTrends 2019-20 issued by the Queensland Government
  • QRAA Rural Debt Survey 2011 full report

Disclaimer: This information is general in nature and should not be relied on as advice. It does not take into account the objectives, financial situation or needs of any particular person. You need to consider your financial situation and needs and seek professional advice before making any decisions based on this information.

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