The State Government has reduced its annual drought assistance spending to $47 million - down from more than $100m last year - in a new package announced today.
Premier John Brumby says the new deal will position Victorian farmers to capitalise on recent spring rains, boost recovery from more than a decade of drought and drive the future sustainability of the agricultural sector.
In the Wimmera, Mr Brumby said the centrepiece of the $47 million package was a new farm improvement grants scheme to support farmers in drought-affected areas to make significant on-farm infrastructure improvements to boost productivity.
"We have stood by Victorian farming families and their communities through 13 years of drought which, combined with the impacts of climate change and bushfires have created unprecedented challenges for our farmers," Mr Brumby said.
"It is great news that for many farmers the recent spring rain means the prospect of a long and overdue good cropping season, with Victoria’s grain harvest shaping up to be one of the best in more than a decade and projections showing it could tip the scales at four million tonnes.
"However, many farmers are still doing it tough. Victoria’s dairy farmers, who account for 85 per cent of Australia’s dairy exports, have been hit with record low milk prices because of unfair European Union and United States dairy export subsidies and the Global Financial Crisis.
"The rising Australian dollar will also generate export pricing challenges for our grain growers.
"That’s why this year we are once again delivering a significant drought assistance package which provides immediate relief for farmers, drives on-farm productivity improvements and supports farming communities which rely on a prosperous farming sector."
The key elements of the Victorian Government’s 2009 drought package are:
• $13.5m for Farm Improvement Grants of $2000 for infrastructure improvements for farmers in the Northern Irrigation Region and $1000 for any eligible farmer in an EC-declared area to drive improvements in on-farm productivity;
• $9m for municipal rates subsidies of up to 30pc for eligible farmers in EC - declared areas for 2009/2010 which recognises that farmers have experienced over a decade of drought and associated financial hardship;
• $9m for Water Rate Rebates for farmers who receive less than a 30pc allocation from December 1;
• $2.3m for Drought Extension Support; providing advice and information for farm businesses in the Northern Irrigation Region with essential decision-making including targeted advice for the dairy industry;
• $1.9m for the Drought Apprentice Retention Bonus. The initiative provides one-off $1500 cash grants per apprentice to businesses in EC-declared areas which directly provide services to the farming industry;
• $1.6m to VicRelief and Foodbank to provide items such as food and other household necessities to families in drought-affected communities; and
• $450,000 to provide a personalised case management service to farmers accessing Rural Financial Counselling in Northern Victoria.
The Victorian Farmers' Federation says the package has provided support for those farmers most in need as well as a small incentive for investment in productivity.
President Andrew Broad said the VFF had lobbied the Government to provide support for those who have missed out on the recent rains or were suffering from market downturns.
"We are pleased to see that our discussions with the State Government have resulted in an increase in a modest package to provide Farm Improvement Grants for Exception Circumstances (EC) recipients," Mr Broad said.
"This will provide grants of up to $2000 for farmers in the Northern irrigation areas, and up to $1000 for other areas.
"The continuation of the water rebate for districts receiving less than the 30pc allocation will be welcomed in the smaller systems such as Werribee, Bacchus Marsh and Campaspe that remain on zero allocations.
"Irrigators on the Goulburn Murray irrigation district will however miss out.
"While an increased allocation is better than a handout the lower commodity prices have offset the increased water availability and finding funds for the water charges will be difficult for some."
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.