Drought funds miss WA again

Jo FulwoodThe West Australian

A $100 million drought funding package has been set aside for New South Wales and Queensland farmers, but will not be made available to struggling farmers in WA's eastern Wheatbelt.

In a statement released last week, Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce said the Drought Recovery Concessional Loans scheme was a result of the visit he made with Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey to western New South Wales and south-west Queensland in September.

"The Government has listened to farmers; and what they've told us is that they need access to finance at a lower rate and for a longer term to rebuild their businesses from these dry conditions," he said.

Senator Joyce said the new scheme, which was a redirection of money from within the Federal Government's concessional loans package, was for farmers experiencing severe and protracted drought conditions.

In Queensland, this scheme will also help those impacted by drought and the mid-2011 disruption to live cattle exports to Indonesia.

"This is for the one-in-100-year drought areas, but we will give consideration for those who are dealing with anything in excess of a one-in-50-year drought," he said.

"(This package) is for those who have also dealt with the issues pertaining to the live cattle trade and are in one-in-20-year droughts, but we will give consideration down to one-in-10, if, in the past three years, they've had in two of those years consignments of cattle into the live cattle trade."

The loan provides for individual farm businesses in NSW and Queensland to access up to $1 million over 10 years at a variable concessional interest rate initially set at 3.21 per cent.

When compared with the Drought Concessional Loans Scheme currently offered to all Australian farmers, the Recovery Loan has a lower interest rate and double the repayment period.

According Senator Joyce, 286 farm businesses in Queensland and New South Wales have been approved for loans from both the Farm Concessional Loans Scheme and the Drought Concessional Loans Scheme valued at $150 million.

This is compared to the 13 loan applications received so far in WA for both loan schemes in this current round.

Yet according to Federal shadow minister for agriculture Joel Fitzgibbon, parts of WA have recorded their lowest rainfall levels on record.

"Despite this, WA farmers are not eligible to apply for the Government's latest inadequate drought package, or any other drought package," he said.

"The original package announced following the Prime Minister's February drought tour has been a failure.

"The new package offers no new money and no new help for WA farmers."

Far Eastern Ag Research Group president Brad Auld, who farms at Moorine Rock, called on the Federal minister to visit the Yilgarn. He said it had been another disappointing year for growers in the region.

"What we thought was a reasonable crop, turned out to be very below average," Mr Auld said.

"We are looking at around 700-800kg for wheat. This is really only just break-even at best.

"Across the shire, growers almost had more rain during harvest than during the growing season.

"It would be great for the minister to visit the area and rub shoulders with those growers who are struggling."

When questioned by _Countryman _ about a visit to WA, the minister responded only by saying he was aware of the drought issues affecting WA farmers.

"Which is why the Australian Government is delivering a Drought Concessional Loan Scheme targeting WA farm businesses experiencing a one-in-20-year drought event or a one-in-10-year drought event and financial hardship," Senator Joyce said.

The Department of Agriculture and Food is running seminars in the Murchison and Southern Cross areas to discuss the concessional loans schemes currently operat- ing.

The information sessions bring together the range of support options on offer to farm businesses which are experiencing, or who have recently experienced, drought conditions.

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