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Farm organisations welcome big jump in federal government drought support

Beef Central, August 20, 2018

STATE farm organisations have welcomed additional funding and new initiatives announced yesterday as part of the Federal Government’s drought support package for farmers and regional communities.

The majority of yesterday’s additional $250 million allocation announcement is made up of low-interest loans aimed at encouraging farmers to invest in on-farm infrastructure to improve storage facilities such as silos and hay sheds, as well as new taxation measures allowing farmers to claim costs of expanding fodder storage after one year, instead of having to wait three years.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull foreshadowed a significant additional package of measures a fortnight ago, when he visited Trangie in western NSW to announce extra cash payments for farmers with little or no income.

Yesterday’s additional package includes:

  • An increase in low interest loans from $1 million to $2 million per farming enterprise to improve feed storage infrastructure through the Regional Investment Corporation.
  • Accelerated depreciation provisions for fodder infrastructure that will allow farmers to claim tax write offs after one year instead of three.
  • $155 million for local government projects including $1 million for individual councils in affected areas
  • $72 million for a special drought round of the National Water Infrastructure Development Fund.
  • $37 million for new bores across the southeast region of the Great Artesian Basin;
  • $2.7 million for enhanced long term weather forecasting.
  • Additional staffing to fast track Farm Household Allowance applications.

With the additional $250 million in new money announced yesterday, the value of the Federal Government’s drought-assistance package is now $1.8 billion, directed at farmers, local councils and businesses dealing with one of the worst droughts in a century.

Prime Minister Turnbull said the measures would help farmers boost their resilience.

“I want to say to our farmers: we have your back, there’s no set and forget,” he said.

“We are constantly working to ensure you get every support you can. And of course, let’s all pray for rain.”

NSW Farmers Association president James Jackson said the announcement recognised the challenges farmers face accessing water and fodder.

“It is good to see that the Australian Government will underwrite local councils to provide access to water, which a number have already commenced in response to NSW Farmers’ local advocacy.

“The increase to $2 million for low interest loans will help farmers to increase on-farm infrastructure to store the grain and fodder generously provided through community appeals.

“However, while low interest loans are helpful, there is a limit to the amount of debt that farm businesses can carry and still be in a viable position to fund the costs of restocking and replanting when the drought breaks.

“NSW Farmers calls on the Australian Government to defer both loan interest and principle repayments until it rains, as has been announced by the NSW Government for loans under the Farm Innovation Fund.

“All measures that recognise farmers are business people are welcome. Most are managing cash flows with costs outweighing receipts, and the accelerated depreciation will be of help.

“It is hoped that the additional funding for local government water projects, the drilling of bores, and the $72 million for the National Water Infrastructure Fund will also provide much needed support for local employment and regional businesses who are also facing challenging times.

“The additional funding for long term forecasting will be of benefit, but until it rains, farmers will continue to focus on maintaining the welfare of their core breeding stock and ensuring there is adequate moisture to maintain planting and horticulture activities,” Mr Jackson concluded.

AgForce Queensland chief executive Mike Guerin welcomed the Government’s announcement to support drought-affected communities and build resilience to better deal with current and future events.

New Federal Government drought relief measures and continued community support were a boost for Queensland farmers and regional towns that have been doing it tough for a long time, AgForce said.

“Parts of western and southern Queensland have been in drought for more than six years, which has overwhelmed even the best efforts of many producers to prepare,” Mr Guerin said.

“We welcome the $22 million for Queensland councils to spend on projects in drought-stricken areas, and additional funding for the Great Artesian Basin Sustainability Initiative – a fantastic water saving program that delivers wins for the environment, primary producers and rural economies.

“The funding for regional water infrastructure and changes to tax settings to encourage producers to invest in fodder storage will help build further resilience and productivity at both the regional and on-farm levels.

“AgForce had been calling for measures such as these and had also sought a simplification and faster processing of applications for assistance so that commitment from the Federal Government should deliver positive results.

“With these new announcements from the Federal Government, it’s now vital the Queensland Government also steps up, particularly around water infrastructure for agricultural development.

“AgForce is urging the Queensland Government to invest in new regional capital works projects, increase education assistance for children from remote areas, and provide leasehold land rent and council rates relief.

“The Queensland Government also needs to rethink its new vegetation management laws that are making it more costly and complex for farmers to feed their animals during drought.”

Mr Guerin thanked all Australians for their continued support of drought-affected farmers through donations to charities and the various appeals that have been established, including the Farm Aid Telethons being held in Warwick and Dubbo today.

“The drought has now been going on for more than six years in parts of Queensland, and it’s heartening to see Australians rally around our rural communities during these tough times,” he said.

“While the lack of rain is taking its toll in many areas, farmers are strong and resilient, and agriculture has a bright future as Australia’s fastest growing industry with Queensland the most valuable agricultural state.”

Mr Guerin said AgForce had developed an ‘Agricultural Business Cycle’ approach to drought policy, which aims to move from the current reactive, crisis-driven response from government to empowering producers to better manage climate risk.

“It’s about ensuring producers have ownership of drought preparedness and are rewarded for proactive management and efforts to improve their resilience. It’s also about ensuring producers can access the type of assistance they need when they need it to manage drought,” he said.

“Drought has such a big impact on Australian agriculture and extended dry periods are a recurring feature, so we need governments at all levels and politicians on all sides to come together with industry to work on a sustainable approach to managing this issue now and into the future.”

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