Drought loan deadline extended

Rueben HaleThe West Australian

Farmers in WA will have more time to apply for a Farm Finance Concessional Loan, with the closing date for applications extended to June 30.

Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce and State Agriculture Minister Ken Baston this week announced the change to the loan program, which has seen a very low approval rate in WA.

"These loans can be used for debt restructuring or productivity enhancements, or a combination of the two," Mr Joyce said.

"They are intended to give farm businesses some breathing space while managing debt in the short term, in addition to supporting improved productivity and profitability into the future.

"With sowing in the WA Wheatbelt about to get into full swing, this is a key period for farmers seeking finance, and I was keen to extend the application deadline to June 30 to ensure we can assist as many farmers as possible."

Mr Baston welcomed the extension and said loans of up to $1 million were available to eligible farm businesses, with an interest rate currently set at 4.34 per cent and a loan term of five years.

"Eligible farming activities include broadacre, pastoral, horticulture, dairy, intensive agriculture and aquaculture," he said.

"This extension gives growers who might currently be busy with seeding preparations more time to apply for a concessional loan."

The Australian Government has made a total of $25 million in loans available to eligible farm businesses in WA for the 2014-15 round of the loans scheme.

In addition to the $420 million Farm Finance Concessional Loans Scheme, the Australian Government had a range of assistance measures available to farmers and rural communities experiencing hardship - including income support through the Farm Household Allowance and free financial counselling through the Rural Financial Counselling Service.

But WAFarmers president Dale Park said to date few farmers' applications had been successful.

In WA, 24 loans were approved under the first (2013-14) round of the Farm Finance Concessional Loans Scheme, totalling $5.2 million.

As of Tuesday, 33 applications from farm businesses had been received, with four approved for loans in WA under the second round.

The overall total for both rounds to date is $7.225 million.

"The take-up of these loans hasn't been extraordinary," Mr Park said.

But Mr Park also said with farmers' focus on seeding the extended deadline was welcome.

"If people are thinking about it, I'd encourage them to get on with it and make an application," he said.

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