THE State and the Federal Government have announced support packages for dairy farmers affected by the global fall in milk prices and the shock decisions by Murray Goulburn and Fonterra to slash the prices paid to their suppliers.
The Victorian Government and the Victorian dairy industry have united to deliver an $11.4 million support package. Put together in consultation with the Dairy Industry Taskforce, it should go some way to ensuring dairy farmers and their families experiencing financial and emotional stress get the support they need.
The package includes a $5.2 million industry contribution, comprising $1.4 million from the Gardiner Foundation, $2.8 million from Dairy Australia and up to $1 million from Murray Goulburn.
“The Labor Government stands behind our rural communities, and we won’t let any farmer or community member go it alone,” said Premier Daniel Andrews.
The government and industry support package includes:
- A major expansion of Dairy Australia’s Tactics for Tight Times and Taking Stock programs, providing specialised on-farm business support to enable dairy farmers make the best decisions;
- $240,000 boost to the Rural Financial Counselling Service, ensuring dairy farmers can get independent and confidential financial counselling;
- $220,000 for two FTE support workers at the United Dairyfarmers of Victoria (UDV) to assist farmers.
As part of the dairy support package, the government has set aside $4.5 million to support affected farming communities and will consult on how these funds are best spent.
“We know that this is a tough time for Victorian dairy farmers, and now more than ever it’s crucial that the industry comes together,” said Minister for Agriculture Jaala Pulford.
The support from the Andrews Government comes on top of an earlier announcement of a $1.5 million mental health wellbeing package for dairy farmers. This includes extra counselling services, mental health first aid training, support for community events and a $100,000 boost towards the Look Over the Farm Gate program.
The Federal Coalition Government is also coming to the aid of beleaguered dairy farmers. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources Barnaby Joyce met with dairy farmers at Shepparton last week. He promised the Coalition would deliver immediate assistance to dairy farmers in hardship to help them manage through the difficult times and return to profitability.
The key elements of the federal support package are:
- $555 million in Dairy Recovery Concessional Loans.
- $20 million to fast track the upgrade of the Macalister Irrigation District.
- $2 million to establish a commodity milk price index.
- $900,000 for an additional nine rural financial counsellors in Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and New South Wales.
- $900,000 for Dairy Australia’s ‘Tactics for Tight Times’ program.
- Fast tracking Farm Household Allowance applications with 18 more Department of Human Services employees processing claims.
- Appointment of a Department of Human Services Dairy Industry Liaison Officer.
- Redirection of two Department of Human Services Mobile Service Centres to dairy regions.
“The Coalition will be making immediately available $55 million in Dairy Recovery Concessional Loans for Murray Goulburn and Fonterra suppliers this year, as well as access to $500 million in concessional loans over 2016-17 and 2017-18 years. The recovery loans will be for terms of 10 years,” Mr Joyce said.
The concessional loans will be funded by expanding the drought concessional loan scheme to include dairy-specific criteria.
“This is a good solid package that gives suppliers greater flexibility in managing their debt during this difficult time,” said UDV president Adam Jenkins.
“We want to support farmers during the current crisis and this federal package goes a long way to helping.”
“This crisis is all about farmers working together to find practical solutions to the enormous challenges we all now face,” Mr Jenkins said.
“It’s pleasing to see both state and federal politicians voicing their concerns for the industry and offering their support.”
The UDV has taken measures to ensure dairy farmers receive the representation they need during the current crisis, including:
- Seeking legal advice on removing the claw-back clauses in dairy farmers’ supply contracts;
- Pushing processors, including MG and Fonterra, to deliver certainty by announcing an opening season price as soon as possible;
- Pushing processors to reform their milk pricing structures; and
- Meeting with the ACCC to determine if MG and Fonterra engaged in misleading or unconscionable conduct in the timing and notice of their milk price cuts.
Member for McMillan Russell Broadbent welcomed the news that the government would provide support for Australian dairy farmers.
“This is very welcome news for communities across McMillan who have been hit hard by this decision,” Mr Broadbent said.
O’Brien urges farmers to take up support
Member for Gippsland South Danny O’Brien has urged Gippsland dairy farmers to take up support available to them from the state and federal governments.
“There are some useful tools available from both levels of government for farmers to now take up,” he said.
“The offer of concessional loans at 2.71 per cent dropping to 2.66 per cent in August is a significant opportunity for those struggling with debt.
“The Farm Household Allowance is being taken up by many farmers, providing cash to literally put food on the table for those who are really struggling.
“The State Government support in conjunction with industry is positive, but I believe Labor needs to do a lot more for farmers with cash flow issues and business planning.”
The Nationals are calling on the government to introduce local government rates concessions as one way to help farmers who are struggling with bills.
“We can’t pay the bills for feed, electricity and other accounts that will be coming in, but the government can do more on council and water rates,” Mr O’Brien said.
“Yesterday at a briefing with Agriculture Minister Jaala Pulford I put forward a number of other suggestions, including more business planning support, additional rural financial counsellors, kindergarten and childcare subsidies and the provision of small capital grants.
“While the dairy farmers themselves are struggling, we have to realise that service industries and small businesses in our towns will also struggle, and the idea of small capital grants for works on farm could help ensure that those businesses keep getting work.”
Mr O’Brien added that Murray Goulburn and Fonterra had much to answer for the current crisis and should be reconsidering their decisions to retrospectively claw back payments.
“These companies have caused the problems through mismanagement and they should be doing more to assist farmers to get through the crisis,” he said.
“While this is a serious crisis for the industry I have long term confidence in a strong future for the industry and collectively I am sure we can all get through this together.”
Information about support that is available for dairy farmers can be found on the Agriculture Victoria website or by calling 136 186.
Help is also available for dairy farmers and their families by phoning Lifeline on 13 11 14.