'Drop in the ocean" - drought support package too little, too late: farmers

LOCAL farmers have had a mixed reaction to the federal government’s landmark $320 million drought package released yesterday.

Under the five-point package, farmers will be able to claim fortnightly income support, get access to low-interest loans and access a raft of other programs.

But Loomberah farmer Rob Haling said even though farmers would be able to access income support from March 3 under the new package, the $2.55m cap on net farm assets to qualify for the support made it unobtainable for many.

He said most people were “well and truly over $2.55 million (so) that’s out for 90 per cent of farmers”.

“Five-hundred acres in the Tamworth area, if it’s really decent country, you’re looking at $2m – and if you’ve got plant and stock. Well, you’re well over $2.5m, aren’t you?” he said.

Excel Genetics owner Geoff Steinbeck, of Dungowan, said the low-interest loans were a “small help” but they still had to be paid off.

“I’m not 100 per cent sure what this help is going to be in the short term,” Mr Steinbeck said.

On income support, he said: “Possibly the people most in need would have less than $2.55 million in total assets.”

But he said the water and mental health schemes were “absolutely wonderful” and a “great asset”.

From Monday, a farmer with up to $2.55m in net farm assets will be eligible to claim fortnightly income support under the Interim Farm Household Allowance, without the need for a drought declaration.

The Federal government’s $320 million drought package also includes $280 million of drought concessional loans.

Farmers will be able to get a loan at 4 per cent over five years instead of the 7 and up to 10 per cent that they’re currently paying, Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce said.

He said farmers would be able to borrow up to $1 million “or half of what you owe to the bank – whatever is the lesser” and it would be administered by the NSW Rural Adjustment Authority.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who made the announcement with Mr Joyce, said: “A 4 per cent rate is very, very good”.

But Pilliga farmer Judy Field, of Tympana, disagreed.

“That’s not very low ... I think it’s a little bit high, under the circumstances,” Mrs Field said.

Mr Haling said 4 per cent was “very good” but people needed money, not a debt that would have to be paid off over time.

“That is a help but, look, there’s a lot of people who want help now,” he said. 

“I think a lot of farmers would have been looking for cash up front and interest rates have to be paid, so what they’ve done is of very little help.

“I don’t think it has been properly thought through. I’m very disappointed. I really believe the Liberal Party are totally out of touch and the debt farmers are carrying now is totally out of control.”

The package was brought forward from its initial flagged date of July 1 as more and more areas of NSW and Queensland slip further into drought.

NSW Farmers president Fiona Simson said her organisation estimated more than 60 per cent of NSW was in drought and that she was pleased the government had acted smartly on their request to act quickly.

Yesterday’s announcement also included millions of dollars being made available for pest management ($10m), existing water infrastructure schemes ($12m) and mental health services ($10.7m) within drought-affected areas.

*** Drought support a welcome addition: editorial.

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