National Farmers' Federation

Farmers call on Ag Ministers to deliver the detail on drought

The federal and state agricultural ministers will meet tomorrow for the Standing Council on Primary Industries (SCOPI) meeting in Sydney, and the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) is calling on them to deliver the ‘meat on the bones’ of Australia’s national drought policy.
“Tomorrow, as farmers across the country prepare to plant their winter crops amidst drying conditions, the collective agricultural ministers will meet for the first time since the last SCOPI meeting in October 2012, where they agreed to implement a new drought policy package but did not provide the details underpinning this,” NFF President Duncan Fraser said.
“The joint ministers agreed that the package will include five key elements: promoting Farm Management Deposits and taxation measures; a national approach to farm business training; a coordinated, collaborative approach to the provision of social services (including rural financial counsellors); tools and technologies to inform farmer decision making; and income support.
“If the respective state and territory governments agree to this, this package is set to be introduced from 1 July 2014, and yet all the details surrounding this are still outstanding.
“The Farm Finance announcement last week by the Federal Minister for Agriculture was the first step in this process and included two of these elements: some greater flexibility around Farm Management Deposits and the appointment of 16 additional rural financial counsellors – but again, we are still awaiting detail on this announcement from the Government. Questions remain around these elements and indeed the wider Farm Finance package, including the concessional loans. We do not yet know eligibility criteria, interest rates or repayment details.
“Questions also remain around in-drought support, including business, community and economic development support, after the SCOPI ministers tasked officials to develop proposals for consideration. We await this information from SCOPI tomorrow with interest.
“As we have stated many times before, we believe effective drought policy must focus on preparing farmers for the next drought during the good seasons, while also acknowledging that there may be periods of drought in the future that require more than an adhoc policy response. We see SCOPI’s consideration of a new drought package as a step in the right direction, but as we said back in October, we want to see greater commitment to implementing these measures, plus in-drought business support measures.
“And we urgently need to get the framework for delivering this policy right. The National Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements is an example of how the states and Federal Government work collaboratively together to deliver assistance, so we suggest that the new drought framework be modelled on this. We also strongly urge cooperation between the state and Federal Governments – and greater engagement between the governments and the agricultural sector – in the delivery of the Farm Finance package.
“Drought policy is critically important to Australian farmers – we must get it locked in, and we must get it right,” Mr Fraser said.

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