More support for farmers

THE state government has announced another package to support farmers in drought-affected communities in eastern Gippsland.

Agriculture Minister Jaala Pulford this week announced a $25 million Drought Preparedness and Support Package, with targeted support for mental health, small business planning and support for parents in farming communities in east and central Gippsland and northern Victoria.

As part of this package, families in east and central Gippsland will be able to access $8.45 million in support for education costs, including $2.2 million for back to school support, an additional $5 million to extend the Camps, Sports and Excursion Fund and $1.25 million for children attending kinder in drought-affected areas.

An additional $370,000 will go towards supporting small businesses with planning workshops and mobile mentoring services in east and central Gippsland.

The Drought Infrastructure Grant Program has also been given a $11.8 million boost.

With the dry conditions making it more difficult for farmers to control wild pests and animals, the government’s drought assistance package also includes $1 million to make sure wild pest and animal control programs are processed faster and better coordinated regionally.

The government’s new $25 million drought support package builds on the $5 million already provided to support farming communities last month across east and central Gippsland who are continuing to manage the affects of drought.

Ms Pulford said the government was backing farmers across the state, delivering the support families affected by drought needed, “and building resilience in other areas impacted by record low rainfall and climate change”.

“We know our farmers are resilient, capable and innovative, but we need to make sure the support you need is there and that no one goes it alone,” she said.

The Victorian Farmers Federation has welcomed the expanded relief arrangements.

VFF president David Jochinke also called on the government to ensure measures such as infrastructure grants available to farmers were meaningful for effective change, and added that relief from fixed-term costs such as council rates should also be addressed.

“While we welcome the government’s extended package, we would again stress the importance of ensuring grants allocated are adequate to offer genuine on-farm relief from drought, while  promoting long term preparedness and resilience, while relief from local council rates is also provided,” he said.

“To be frank, when farmers are looking at failed crops and paying thousands of dollars to buy feed for animals, a $1000 infrastructure grant and the time and paperwork it takes to secure it may not be meaningful for effective change.

“A farmer’s variable income takes a significant hit during times of drought, yet at the same time some councils have increased their farm rates bills by as much as 20 to 50 per cent, which flies in the face of the huge impact drought conditions are already having on rural and regional communities.

“With the state election fast approaching, the VFF will continue demanding action on rates from all candidates and parties, as well as a genuine vision for Victorian agriculture which promotes the long-term sustainability, resilience and profitability of our sector.”

Gippsland East MLA Tim Bull said it was disappointing shire rate relief, something that would make a real difference to every farmer, had not been included in the package.

“We have heard loud and clear at the many forums I have hosted that rate relief was the most fair and appropriate way to support our farmers,” he said.

“Unfortunately, Labor has not provided this, and many of the initiatives announced will not be of any assistance to many who are doing it tough, whereas rate relief would have assisted all.”

For more information about drought conditions and assistance, visit www.agriculture.vic.gov.au/dryseasons.