Rate relief suggestion welcomed

North-west farmers continue to push for rate relief


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DROUGHT SUPPORT: Premier Daniel Andrews and Agriculture Minister Jaclyn Symes last week announced more funding for areas hit hardest by dry conditions - including East and Central Gippsland, the Millewa region in north-west Victoria, and the Goulburn-Murray Irrigation District.

DROUGHT SUPPORT: Premier Daniel Andrews and Agriculture Minister Jaclyn Symes last week announced more funding for areas hit hardest by dry conditions - including East and Central Gippsland, the Millewa region in north-west Victoria, and the Goulburn-Murray Irrigation District.

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North-western mixed farmers welcome suggestions of council rate relief.

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Farmers in the Millewa have welcomed suggestions by Mildura Rural City Council that state government drought funding could be put to rate relief.

Rod Henschke, Willamba Station, Merrinee, said it was the key issue, for primary producers in the drought stricken region.

"We could all get a percentage off our rates, it would be an equal distribution then, not favoring anyone in particular," Mr Henschke said.

"Whatever we have saved there can be used for fodder, or whatever our requirements are."

Premier Daniel Andrews last week announced more than $31 million in targeted support for areas hit hardest by dry conditions - including East and Central Gippsland, the Millewa region in north-west Victoria, and the Goulburn-Murray Irrigation District.

That includes $5.2m, for three shires hardest hit by the drought, and a $15 million Farmers' Drought Fund to help farming businesses and families that need it most.

The fund will provide household financial relief for families in Central and East Gippsland, the Millewa and the GMID who have been hit hard by drought.

Mr Henschke said his rates bill was around $25,000.

"The money has to go to whatever the farmers decide is their major concern.

"If that's rates, it's all got to go to that."

He said he normally ran 140 breeding cows, which were currently away on agistment, 1000 breeding ewes and a cropping regime.

"We are getting low on fodder stocks we accumulated in the good year in 2016.

"We're running around 600 breeding ewes, at the moment, they're cleaning up our crops in the wheat paddock.

'We've got another week, or fortnight, before we have to shift them to a feedlot area."

He said his oat crop, sown for stock feed, "never eventuated, and at least two thirds of the wheat and barley didn't even germinate."

BIG DRY: Conditions in the Millewa, one of the Victorian regions, hit by drought.

BIG DRY: Conditions in the Millewa, one of the Victorian regions, hit by drought.

Financial, psychological relief

Ian Arney, Werrimull, said rate relief would provide financial and psychological relief.

He said a 30 per cent reduction in rates was been suggested.

With a rate bill around $20,000, a rates reduction, by that figure, would be "terrific.

"The council can still meet its running costs and activities, while providing us with a significant benefit," Mr Arney said.

"There were people hoping for 100pc, but compared to where we were a couple of days ago, 30pc is absolutely terrific.

He said he favored the concept of a direct payment to council.

"It's paid to council, not to us, then it is designated as going directly to helping on-farm businesses.

"That way it's guaranteed to be spent, in an appropriate manner."

Mr Arney said he was running 2900 ewes, but had been destocking for three months.

"I want to take the majority of my breeders through, that's one of the reasons I'm destocking."

Money from rate relief would enable him to get his breeding ewes through the season.

James O'Day, Merrinee North, usually plants wheat, barley, oats, pulses and legumes; this year he cut his cropping area by nearly 80 hectares.

"It should go on rate relief, we are adamant about that,"Mr O'Day said.

"We are planning on not giving the council an option, if they try anything else, it's a fight they'll lose."

Mr O'Day said he thought his rate bill of $35,000 was excessive.

"What's been put on offer, is a great start."

He said he'd been feeding his 1500 cross bred ewes for about nine months, most recently putting them onto failed crops.

"I don't want to take the crops down too far, because of soil erosion," he said.

"Unless we get rain, and some feed, they'll go into containment areas over summer, until we get a break, next year."

Rate support

Ron Hards, Lake Cullulleraine said the federal funding was earmarked for capital spending projects.

"While the Premier did say, in his general talk, he believed the council has the right to do whatever it feels fit, he would like to see all the money spend on rate support," Mr Hards said.

"It will be interesting to see what council do, in their wisdom, whether they put it to rate support, or not."

He estimated the rate bill for the Millewa would be around $1million.

"It would go a fair way to paying the entire bill."

He said he'd like to see the federal funding spent on improvements to Lake Cullulleraine, cleaning up drifting sand and rabbit control.

"If we managed to get some money, while things are very dry and the ground is loose and soft, if farmers could engage in a ripping program, that would be very successful."

He said he had been doing some contracting work and cutting hay further south.

"We have some crops we will harvest, the wheat in particular is not brilliant, but no legumes have made it," he said.

"We may get some seed off the chick peas, but we are running our stock fairly carefully and grazing failed crops."

Mr Hards said it was important to keep enough cover to maintain the soil structure, "so it doesn't blow away," for next year.

He said 700 ewes, with 300 lambs on one mob.

"The lambs will go soon, leaving a core flock of 400."

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