How Banks And Politicians Are Helping Drought-Stricken Farmers

Ninety-nine percent of NSW is affected by an historic drought.

Virtually all of NSW is in drought and Queensland isn't much better and now banks and politicians are coming to the aid of desperate farmers worried about their livelihood.

According to the NSW Department of Primary Industries, as of June 30, 99 percent of the state is experiencing drought conditions, with 15 percent in intense drought.

The Bureau of Meteorology reported the entire country was gripped by an historic lack of rainfall. Parts of the country, especially in the eastern states, are experiencing the lowest rainfall on record, even after a drought that gripped parts of the country for years.

READ MORE: The Quiet Drought That Has Snuck Up On Our Doorstep

READ MORE: How You Can Help Drought-Stricken Farmers

NSW DPI

"For Australia as a whole, April to June 2018 has been the fourth-driest such period since comparable records commence in 1900," the BOM said in a drought statement on July 4.

For many, especially during the cold winter months, less rainfall and more sun would be welcome news. But for farmers in the west of NSW and QLD especially, it has meant yet more heartache and stress as crops fail and livestock are affected by a lack of water.

"I may be standing on a property that is worth several million dollars, but at the end of the day, it’s not worth a thing if I can’t produce food on it," Lynette Keanelly, who runs an apple orchard and Christmas tree farm in Oakdale NSW, told ten daily.

"So there are farming families out there that have great assets, but they have no cash flow."

Bureau of Meteorology

Farmers have been pleading for assistance from government, with many grappling with loan repayments and other bills that need to be paid. Last month, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull travelled to drought communities and committed to action.

This week, the federal government detailed a further rollout of its farm assistance package, establishing a Farm Liaison Officer to help connect the agricultural sector with federal drought assistance schemes.

"For example, the Farm Liaison Officer would help connect people to Rural Financial Counsellors, who help farmers apply for Farm Household Allowance," said agriculture minister David Littleproud.

"Data collected by the Liaison Officer will help build a better picture of client's circumstances before, during and after accessing federal support measures to better inform government."

Queensland drought in 2014. (AAP Image/Dan Peled)

The officer, to be based in Longreach QLD, will service and travel between northern and southern QLD, as well as central and northern NSW.

The Rural Financial Counselling Service helps farmers negotiate with banks and lenders, find information about government assistance programs, and make action plans.

The NSW government committed $284 million to drought relief and $4 million to rural mental health in its state budget last month, as well as $220 million for a Farm Innovation Fund offering seven-year interest-free loans up to $50,000 to build water infrastructure and feed livestock. However, Keanelly said the loans wouldn't fix the problem.

“I have enough debt. That is just transferring the pain. It has to be paid back, eventually. That’s not helping the problem," she said.

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Banks have also relented and given relief to farmers, with institutions relaxing rules on lending and repayments. The Commonwealth Bank extended support to commercial and agribusinesses including a phone counselling service, pauses on business loan repayments, extending the loan term, and waiving certain fees.

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ANZ Bank has also announced farming assistance until the end of July 2019. A similar package including suspending loan and credit card repayments for three months, a commitment not to raise increase interest rates, waiving certain fees and providing counselling was announced this week.

Stay tuned for a ten daily special report next week on drought in NSW.