D U S T B O W L

30 Oct, 2002 10:00 PM
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Thumbs up for State drought aid

By RICK LEE

FARM lobby groups in WA have given the state drought assistance package the thumbs up.

Premier Geoff Gallop revealed the drought was expected to cost the WA economy $1 billion when he announced the $6.8 million package last week, at the drought-devastated property of Ivan Solomon at Perenjori.

Mr Solomon's predicament is typical of that experienced by others in the Wheatbelt, with many farrmers unable to grow any crops this year because of lack of moisture.

The government will offer grants of up to $6000 for farm businesses, boost the Farm Water Grants Scheme by $1.5 million and provide $300,000 for rural counselling.

It has been estimated that more than 550 farmers will be eligible for the grants.

A total of $1.6 million would be set aside to fund the state contribution to any new Exceptional Circumstances declaration.

Pastoralists and Graziers Association president Barry Court said the package targeted the most important areas.

"I welcome the announcement. Anyone prepared to put in $7 million to support the ailing agricultural industry deserves support," Mr Court said.

"It is designed to tide farm businesses over until next year. If you do a farm budget, looking ahead two to three years, it looks pretty good with commodity prices the way they are.

"Talking to banks and stock agents, they are not seeing rural farm prices go down so there much still be plenty of interest out there.

"The package hits three important areas ‹ welfare and counselling, water and EC.

"It is vital that good water supplies are developed and EC is vital to reduce interest rate costs."

WAFarmers president Colin Nicholl said it was close to the federation's proposal put forward last month.

"I am not sure $5 million is enough but I would hope the Government would top it up if funds ran short," Mr Nicholl said.

"There needs to be flexibility with the $6000 grants so farmers can decide was is most important ‹ whether to put in a feedlot, agist their stock or look after water.

"Farm water is a long term issue and the scheme has been well and truly underfunded to this point.

"The economies are dying in the dry regions. A lot of young people are packing up and leaving because there is no earning capacity.

"This package is needed to keep some cashflow up.

"Small businesses have been left out in all areas. They can't seem to attract support from state or federal governments."

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