OUR SAY: Drought support for longer term

FEDERAL Primary Industries Minister Barnaby Joyce should be applauded for the speed of his response to the drought but the financial assistance offered to farmers like the recent rains needs to be followed up.

There is a green tinge spreading across the paddocks of the central west, and around Orange at least there has been enough rain for most farmers to declare they are out of danger for now.

Further to the west and north it is a different story, however. The rain has been patchy and the need for assistance greater.

As welcome as Mr Joyce’s package is the assistance will need to be more substantial than the $280 million for low-interest loans or the $10.7 million to support mental health services.

As research from Charles Sturt University indicates, the impacts of drought fall not only on the shoulders of farmers and last much longer than any dry period that sparks a government response.

Aside from mining, rural towns exist for one reason, to support the agriculture sector. When farmers stop injecting money into these small local economies the effect is as devastating as drought is to the farmer.

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Drought support, which allows farmers to at least hang on to their breeding stock and service existing loans, is welcome but for drought-affected farmers it is also piling debt on top of existing debt.

Some will survive thanks to the package but their long-term viability will remain fragile as will the small communities that rely on them spending.

With funding now in place for those in urgent need, Mr Joyce and the government must turn their attention to the longer term.

He has been right to make distinctions between supporting farmers at the mercy of the climate and manufacturers who are more the masters of their destiny but ultimately agriculture too has to look at long-term sustainability.

Many in the sector will need assistance to make fundamental changes to their business.

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