NSW farmers not taking up drought relief grants and loans

By Country News

The NSW Government has paid more than $37 million in disaster relief grants to primary producers affected by the state's unprecedented bushfire season, the agriculture minister has revealed.

But of the 10 000 NSW farmers affected by bushfires during the summer, just 1200 have applied for a grant.

The federal and NSW governments in January announced a scheme enabling bushfire- impacted producers to apply for recovery assistance for infrastructure, equipment and labour costs.

They are eligible for grants of up to $75 000 per farming enterprise, meaning farmers owning more than one property can apply for multiple grants.

NSW Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall said more than 10 000 primary producers had been fire-affected.

“A lot have lost boundaries and internal fencing, sheds, other structures; some, unfortunately, have lost their homes and others have lost absolutely everything including any stock they had,” Mr Marshall said.

So far, 1205 primary producers have applied for the special disaster grant with 618 approved and 190 rejected.

About $37.7 million has been provided to those 618 producers, suggesting each producer received an average grant of $61 000.

Mr Marshall said primary producers who had not applied were likely wary of receiving government funding or currently were incapable of finishing the application.

“There are many primary producers out there that have a philosophical view of not wanting any government assistance,” he said.

“Also a lot of farmers are probably not in a position to apply yet, in that they've got other priorities or (are not) in the head space at the moment where they're ready.”

Mr Marshall said he would approach the Federal Government to extend the July 31 grant application deadline if necessary and that Department of Primary Industries staff were also on the ground encouraging farmers to apply.

Meanwhile, Mr Marshall said just 11 NSW primary producers had applied for special disaster relief concessional loans of up to $500 000.

Of the 160 loan applications, 142 were made on behalf of small businesses.

“The fact the applications have been low could be an indication of all sorts of things including there might not be an appetite to take on more finance or they're already accessing the finance they need through the (drought-related) farm innovation fund,” Mr Marshall said.

NSW Labor primary industries spokeswoman Jenny Aitchison said farmers were under pressure amid drought and the August 4 loan application deadline should be extended.

“Anyone who thinks that six months is enough time to sort through the devastation of fires and fill in a mountain of paperwork is kidding themselves,” Ms Aitchison said.