Bulk of finance for struggling farmers not handed out

THE vast bulk of $420 million in farm finance loans put aside for farmers struggling with debt has not been handed out over the past two years.

Figures from the Agriculture Department have confirmed the federal government has funded just under $60 million of the concessional loans kitty for 2013-14 and 2014-15.

As Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce prepares a new drought assistance package for struggling primary producers, the figures confirm many have not taken the loans.

Over the two past financial years, Queensland producers claimed just $19.17 million of the $50 million available in the Sunshine State.

And New South Wales farmers claimed about $50 million, of which just over $20 million was approved, of that state's $70 million available for both years.

But rather than show a lack of need for the loans, the low take up may have more to do with eligibility for concessional loans, with many farmers unable to claim.

Nationals MPs have in recent weeks hit out at the criteria for the loans and other federal assistance, saying many were unable to meet the criteria because the drought was already so bad.

However, more than $300 million remains available in Farm Finance loans for those who may be able to meet the criteria.

And government figures also show farmers have been claiming the more urgent transitional farm family payment - providing income support for those in strife.

More than 430 farming families across three states are currently receiving the help, perhaps a better indicator of those struggling right now.

The figures reveal 153 families in Victoria, 100 in New South Wales and 96 in Queensland are currently claiming the payment.

While the government grapples with both an immediate response to the drought, as well as long-term reforms, the figures show current policies may not be meeting the need.

For more information on drought assistance, go to:

http://www.humanservices.gov.au/rural or http://www.daff.gov.au/farm-finance

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