Debit cards to help farmers

DROUGHT-affected farmers in Wellington can now apply for a pre-loaded debit card to the value of $700, to help with living expenses.

Farmers who receive the debit cards will be encouraged to use them at local businesses.

The Wellington Shire Council initiative is unprecedented in terms of local government level drought relief across the state.

Funding for the initiative comes from the $1 million set aside in the 2019-20 council budget for direct drought support.

To be eligible for one of the 1400 debit cards available, farmers must have a property greater than 40 hectares, be registered with the Australian Taxation Office as a primary producer, have more than 51 per cent of income generated from the farming activity in a normal year of operation, and contribute more than 51 per cent of their labour to the farming enterprise.

Wellington Shire mayor Alan Hall said council consulted with its Agriculture Industry Reference Group and other key stakeholders before deciding how to best spend the $1 million.

“Council thought long and hard about how we could provide an immediate, direct impact not only to farmers, but also the rest of the Wellington economy which is also suffering from this drought,” he said.

“We sought input from our AIRG, which includes representatives from a number of different farming organisations.

“While we wanted to provide financial assistance, we didn’t want to dictate to farmers how they must spend that money, because everyone has a different story to tell about the drought.

“With this pre-loaded debit card, farmers will be free to spend it wherever they need the assistance, whether that’s buying groceries, farming supplies or purchasing school items for the kids.”

Cr Hall said council was seeking a commitment from farmers that they would pass on the goodwill of this initiative by spending the $700 in their local communities, to keep the money flowing through the Wellington economy.

“Council’s only stipulation is that we want farmers who receive this assistance to spend it locally wherever possible, so that the funding also acts as a boost to our local retail sector,” he said.

“We’re all in this together.”

Council estimates that if the $1 million is spent locally, it will generate a flow-on affect of $1.628 million of economic activity.

Farmers have until October 30 to apply for a card, and until December 31 to spend the money.