Reports reveal farmers' fears

Kate PollardCountryman
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Farm lobby groups and industry say there is nothing new in two reports - a financial health survey and a consultants' report into profitability and sustainability - and it was up to the Government to take action.

The reports, DAFWA's Broadacre Farm Business Financial Health Survey 2013 and Growth Profitability and Sustainability in WA Agriculture, were released last week.

DAFWA director-general Rob Delane said the reports would help with decisions to support a sustainable and profitable agricultural sector.

The first, an online survey on the financial health of broadacre businesses, found nearly a third of farmers feared foreclosure if crops failed this year. Confidence levels were mixed with 41 per cent not optimistic about the future.

Pastoralists and Graziers Association president Rob Gillam believes the results do not paint a clear picture of the situation in WA because participation was just 8 per cent.

Most of the 399 growers out of 5100 invited were from the central agricultural zone.

Nearly a quarter were from the north and the rest from southern, south-western and pastoral areas.

WAFarmers president Dale Park said 120 responses from producers with farms of less than 1500 hectares were rejected but could have added to the findings.

The survey found most growers relied on grain production for income and one in six had less than 50 per cent equity.

Most have planted a similar area to last year, but those with less in the ground have cut back because it was harder to access finance.

Thirty-five per cent of businesses saw their financial contracts amended to include higher interest rates or a higher overdraft, which was also making finance harder to secure.

The second report focused on growth, profitability and sustainability and was a desktop study using agricultural consultants' input. It highlighted 12 key issues, including farm debt, access to capital, climate change and productivity growth, ranked according to the level of importance.

Six recommendations were made focusing on government and industry action and included the need for more research, less red tape, more training, alternative finance arrangements and a clear policy agenda.

Australian Association of Agricultural Consultants WA chairman Shane Sander said the report highlighted areas of concern to consultants, including research and development.

Along with WAFarmers and PGA, Mr Sander believes the most important outcome from the reports will be what happens next.

Mr Gillam said DAFWA's role and how it connected with farmers was likely to be a key focus.

With no real surprises in either report, Mr Park said they backed up the anecdotal reports.

He said what was needed was more research and development for the "next big thing".

He wanted DAFWA's budget to remain intact and research efforts increased.

For Muntadgin Farming Alliance spokesman Scott Stirrat, reports like these should be done yearly to paint an accurate picture of what was happening across all segments of the industry.

But they also needed to include the flow-on effects, such as the impact on small businesses and towns, if a third of the farmers feared foreclosure at the end of the year.

_Broadacre Farm Business Financial Health Survey _

The Department of Agriculture and Food's Broadacre Farm Business Financial Health Survey 2013 found:

·85 per cent of respondents had equity levels above 50 per cent

·One in 6 had equity levels below 50 per cent

·79 per cent had off-farm assets but only 15 per cent were confident assets could support the family

·25 per cent have sold off-farm assets in the past three years to help service the farm business

·26 per cent will seek financial planning help

·19 per cent will seek Centrelink assistance

·24 per cent of all businesses surveyed found it much more difficult to access finance

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