DEVASTATING weather events and price downturns have led to a 20 per cent increase in client demand for Rural Business Support in the past year.
Even though it was a good season last year, the effects of drought in previous years, particularly in the Upper South East, are still being felt.
RBS chief executive officer Brett Smith said this increase led to the appointment of two new rural financial counsellors.
“It has been a busy 12 months for us,” he said.
”The flood event on the northern Adelaide Plains was devastating and had a massive impact, particularly on smaller market gardeners.
“We’ve been very involved through the relief centre at Virginia, and providing support with rural financial counselling. Income support has been a key part of that, as people lost their incomes overnight.”
Storms led to a major increase in client demand from the Riverland.
“There was a huge impact, particularly on stonefruit growers,” Mr Smith said.
“When the storms hit, a lot of the stonefruit in the area was only weeks from being harvested.
“For grapegrowers, while they were hit, there was less of an impact because the grapes were hit early and recovered through the season.”
There has been a 500pc to 600pc increase in the demand from the dairy sector.
“We’re working really closely with dairy industry in two ways,” he said.
“One part is providing rural financial counselling.
“But, there are also a lot of farmers who are not in financial difficulty but are still at a crossroad with their business.
“With those clients, we do a farm business strategic review, where we sit down and work through any barriers, to lead to better business outcomes.”
The after-effects of previous drought years have also kept up client numbers.
“Even though it was a good season last year, the effects of drought in previous years, particularly in the Upper South East, are still being felt,” he said.
“We’re still providing support to upper SE and Kangaroo Island areas that were impacted by drought.”
While much has been made of last year’s record crop, there was still some demand from graingrowers after last season.
“In general, it wasn’t a bad year for most graingrowers but some areas were impacted by frost, particularly in the Upper North and parts of the Eyre Peninsula,” Mr Smith said.
“We’re working closely with clients in those areas, as some saw fantastic crops turn overnight because of the effects of frost.”
Grain Producers SA chairman Wade Dabinett said the record crop did not necessarily equate to record profits.
“Everyone has been talking about SA’s bumper crops but it doesn’t mean it was the way for everyone,” he said.
“I know some farmers in the Mid North who said it was probably one of their worst years ever for gross margins.
“There are also plenty of other farmers who said their yields were OK, but nothing out of the ordinary. It hasn’t been a windfall for everyone.”
Horticulture Coalition of SA chairperson Susie Green said it was also a mixed bag for the industry.
“It is a really diverse sector and while some growers are doing it really tough, others are going ahead in leaps and bounds,” she said.
Mr Smith said there was always an underlying need for RBS across the agricultural sectors in SA and NT.
“The demand doesn’t have to come from flood or storms. It could be other reasons, like people haven’t planned for succession or there’s family break-ups or illness,” he said.