SOUTH AUSTRALIAN farmers needing immediate help are wondering whether they will qualify for the Federal Government's assistance package announced at the weekend – and, how long they will be forced to wait.
The State's primary producers are struggling with record levels of farm debt and, although their pleas for help have been answered, details are scant.
PIRSA is working with the government to explore the package details, including how the $60 million in concessional loans will be made available in SA. It expects to have further details after a Ministerial meeting tomorrow (Friday).
The loans will provide up to $650,000 to viable farming businesses at interest rates of about 2 per cent less than commercial lending rates to restructure their debt.
Among other measures is funding for 16 additional financial counsellors – although SA has missed out on this – plus an increase in the non-primary production income threshold for Farm Management Deposits, from $65,000 to $100,000 to enable farming businesses to put away profits in good seasons.
Barossa dairyfarmer and one of the organisers of a recent March for Milk rally, Andrew Koch applauded those involved in the new package and said anything which showed the Federal Government was "at least interested" in farmers was welcome.
Farmers were by nature "passive" but the rally – in March at Murray Bridge and attended by more than 500 people – showed the financial strain they were under.
"With the free-trade environment we all operate in, it feels like we are shags on a rock ready to be picked off," he said. "We need help to get some confidence back so we can get out there and produce food, especially if the government is serious about us feeding the world."
He had been in touch with Farmer Power in Victoria and endorsed its move to encourage each state government to match the Federal Government's package dollar-for-dollar to make the funds go further.
"It would be nice if governments see the long-term value of farming and helped to get things back on track," he said.
"Farmers need this for a confidence-boost to get productivity and their motivation up again to move the country forward."
Mount Gambier MP Don Pegler said a small amount of assistance could make a huge difference for the dairy farmers in his area facing financial pressure.
"If someone is close to the edge it might just get them over the line," he said. "It will be a great saviour for some people, remembering particularly that 2 cents a litre to 3c/L can make a real difference to their bottomline. Many of them have been good farmers and are in a good farming area."
He also welcomed a national approach to farm mediation with Victoria and New South Wales already engaged in the process between banks and small business. But there are no guidelines in SA for banks to sit down with their clients before foreclosure.
"Farmers need to be helped so they can help themselves," he said.
"In good times, they need to put money aside for when things go bad, but government also has a responsibility to shelter them from burden of stupid government decisions, such as the carbon tax, which has seen dairyfarmers' power costs go up a lot," he said.
Cattle Council of Australia president Andrew Ogilvie said the package was a step in the right direction, however he was cautious on whether the scale of the measures was enough to have a broad impact in the sector.
He also flagged that there was still plenty of work to be done in addressing some of the fundamental policy issues contributing to "the current situation".
"Australia's grassfed beef sector, like many other agricultural industries, is facing mounting challenges in the face of the high $A, increasing input costs, mounting debt levels and adverse seasonal conditions," Mr Ogilvie said.
*Full report in Stock Journal, May 2 issue, 2013.