Deal opens way to farm cash aid

Brad ThompsonThe West Australian
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Cash-strapped WA farmers will be able to apply for concessional loans of $250,000 after a breakthrough in talks between the State and Commonwealth on a $60 million relief package.

It came after WA Agriculture Minister Ken Baston and Federal counterpart Joel Fitzgibbon cut a deal to split administration costs - estimated at $5 million over the life of the loans.

It comes after months of bureaucratic and political bickering over the loans package announced by then-treasurer Wayne Swan in April in response to Australia's farm debt crisis.

All States and the Northern Territory baulked at agreeing to terms of the package, worth $420 million across Australia, until now.

Mr Baston blamed a lack of clear Federal Government guidelines on the package for delaying a deal.

"These loans won't save some farm businesses but they will help 300 get past what have been an unprecedented series of hard years for WA agriculture," he said.

Mr Fitzgibbon is expected to finalise the deal on August 1 when he visits WA for a major agricultural conference in Northam. WAFarmers will invite him to tour some of the worst-hit parts of the Wheatbelt after a record-breaking dry start to winter.

It is understood WA and the Commonwealth have recognised the dire outlook and agreed to relax eligibility criteria for the 4.5 per cent loans.

The loans will be targeted at viable farms able to pay the money back over five years.

Premier Colin Barnett floated the possibility of offering farmers more cash yesterday as the WA Government allocated the last of the money available in its $5 million pool for operational grants of $25,000. The money was available to 200 farmers.

WAFarmers president Dale Park said the situation had become much worse since the State and Commonwealth announced aid in April. Parts of the Wheatbelt got rain on Tuesday night but it was generally light and missed farms in the east where sheep are running out of feed and water.

WAFarmers has urged farmers who still have pasture available for agistment to come forward and processor WAMMCO has pushed back yearly maintenance work at its Katanning abattoir to help cope with the big numbers of sheep being moved off farms.

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