Exploit farmer numbers

Cate RocchiThe West Australian

Struggling farmers should apply for Federal Government concessional loans even if they may be rejected, according to the Wheatbelt Integrity Group.

The loan scheme was one of many topics the group discussed at a meeting at Parliament House recently.

The organisation had been set up late last year as a think-tank aimed at changing some of the culture of farming in the Wheatbelt and how it was perceived.

WIG chairman Nick Kelly, of Newdegate, said it was important people in need of financial support spoke up, even if they did not fit the criteria for the loan scheme.

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"We are concerned farmers who really need the money can't access it," he said.

"There is merit in even applying to be rejected, at least that is a show of numbers."

In WA, the Farm Finance Concessional Loans Scheme can assist farm businesses considered commercially viable and which are experiencing debt-servicing difficulties, by providing loans to undertake productivity enhancement activities and debt restructuring.

The scheme is funded by the Australian Government and administered by the Rural Business Development Corporation on behalf of the State Government.

There is $25 million available for the 2014-15 round. Applications will close on April 30.

_The Farm Finance Concessional Loans Scheme is separate to the recently announced Australian Government Drought Concessional Loans Scheme, which targets drought-hit farm businesses. _

It is believed 16 applications for the drought loans have been made and one approved, while 16 applications for the Farm Finance Concessional Loans Scheme have been lodged, with three approved.

WIG member Cathie Kelly said the group had found it was impossible for most to access these loans.

She said there was a belief loans were not required because no one was applying.

However, Mrs Kelly said the Rural Financial Counselling Service estimated one third of the Wheatbelt was in trouble.

"Other help must be found," she said.

Mr Kelly recently spoke to staff at Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce's office about the loans to farmers.

"They can't change their policies on the strength of one or two farmers, but they can change it on the strength of numbers," he said.

He said farmers unsure of their eligibility were welcome to contact him. Also discussed at the meeting was that State Governments in Queensland and Victoria had low-interest loan schemes up to $650,000 for primary producers which encouraged young people to enter farming.

In Queensland, the initiative is called First Start Loans.

Mr Kelly said the loans encouraged land to continue to be farmed by the family.

The parents weren't left high and dry, especially if there was not a lot of fat, he said.

Mr Kelly said this was an area the group would research and then attempt to lobby the State Government about in future, but it needed to gather more information first.

Furthermore, it was raised there were $3.5 billion worth of Farm Management Deposits.

Mr Kelly said others were better qualified to explain these because he was just learning about FMDs.

He believed the deposits fluctuated depending on seasons.

"There is a big pool of funds that perhaps industry could use to draw on to fund itself," he said.

"The Reserve Bank was mentioned and perhaps funds could be administered by the Reserve Bank in times of hardship."

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