Budget mixed bag for farmers

Claire Tyrrell and Haidee Vandenberghe with AAPCountryman

The Federal Budget was received as a mixed bag for agriculture, with some farm lobby groups relatively pleased the cuts were not as severe as feared, while others have come out swinging.

Pointing to new funding to key industry priorities, National Farmers' Federation (NFF) president Jock Laurie said agriculture had come out relatively unscathed from a tough Federal Budget but he said it lacked vision.

Although he was disappointed at the removal of some key programs, Mr Laurie welcomed $379.9 million towards a new post-entry quarantine centre and funding towards pest and disease eradication.

"It's a positive signal from the Government that improving Australia's biosecurity system remains a priority," he said.

Mr Laurie said the new investment reflected reforms flagged in the review of biosecurity arrangements led by Roger Beale in 2008.

"Let's not pretend that the job of implementing the Beale reforms is now complete as a result of this announcement - far from it. However, we at least know that our quarantine system is not being compromised while we await the rollout of remaining reforms," he said.

Mr Laurie expressed relief the Federal Government extended the Caring for Our Country initiative for a further five years, from 2013-14.

"The commitment to continue funding Caring for Our Country is recognition of the vital role that farmers provide in caring for our natural resources," he said.

Mr Laurie welcomed the Federal Government's support for the Bureau of Meteorology, commitment of funds to help implement Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act reforms and flood levy exemptions.

But he said he also felt it was a missed opportunity for the industry.

"We're not seeing any true communication or commitment from the Government to put the agricultural industry in a position where they can take advantage of the next 30 years," he said.

Meanwhile, the Pastoralists and Graziers Association (PGA) was scathing with its Budget assessment, claiming the Government's sole focus was achieving a surplus at the expense of primary industry.

PGA spokesman Sheldon Mumby said he failed to find anything of substance in the Budget for WA agriculture.

"It's probably one of the most oppressive budgets for agriculture," he said.

"With the scrapping of the one per cent company tax break, it's basically penalising small companies as part of this $3.6 billion benefits of the boom package.

"It's penalising farmers for running their businesses.

"There is no assistance in there and even the proposed company tax incentives, designed to cut red tape, have been scrapped."

NFF also expressed disappointment at the removal of funding from the FarmReady scheme, the National Weeds and Productivity program and components of the Community Networks and Capacity Building program.

Coupled with the removal of interest rate subsidies for exceptional circumstances payments under the drought policy, Mr Laurie said the scrapping of the FarmReady scheme would be a blow to farmers.

"This will be tough news for many farmers, especially as it comes hot on the heels of the recent announcement that interest rate subsidies have now been removed with no replacement policy to fill this void," he said.

Federal Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig said Australia's agricultural sector was well placed to benefit from Budget allocations.

"Providing more than $235 million to match research and development expenditure by research and development corporations will continue to drive production and growth, as well as consolidate Australia's reputation as a high-quality producer at the domestic and international level," he said.

"Continuing to roll out funding under the Government's $429 million Carbon Farming Futures Package will help farmers to get involved and take advantage of the great opportunities initiatives like carbon farming provide."

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