IN the wake of Premier Colin Barnett's recent call for unviable farm business owners to walk off the land, Kukerin farming champion Mary Nenke has put forward an idea to help Wheatbelt growers secure finance for the upcoming season.
She has suggested the State Government look to its own Department of Housing's Keystart Home Loan model as a possible example of a way to provide low interest loans to struggling (yet viable) farm businesses that have suffered significant losses due to rising farm input costs and diminishing equity.
But as Ms Nenke pointed out, if Mr Barnett was serious about doing what he could to assist feasible farm businesses he would need to act fast because ANZAC Day marked the traditional start to seeding.
Keystart was established in 1989 and is an initiative of the WA Government and is wholly owned by the Department of Housing.
It's available to all Western Australians purchasing an owner-occupied property in WA who meets its criteria.
Loans are available for 30 years with as little as a two per cent deposit.
"It's a really good model the government could use to help finance good business models," Ms Nenke said.
"I suggested the Keystart model because I think it's a marvellous thing the government does to help people get into housing.
"Food, water and shelter are the three necessities of life.
"We're not asking the government to run at a loss - there's still money to be made from a model like this."
Ms Nenke said WA growers continued to compete on a global scale for low interest rates.
And while those opposed to assisting Eastern Wheatbelt farm businesses used the catch-phrase of 'subsidisation', Ms Nenke said it was nothing of the sort.
"Governments subsidise home loans everywhere," she said.
"You only have to look what happened to home loans during the global financial crisis.
"One of the things I've been fighting for is that growers get recognised as one of the providers of an essential service.
"We have a huge link with small business and we should be working with them to lobby for lower interest rates.
"Interest rates are killing people, farm businesses are defaulting and growers are needing to sell their farms.
"And as a result of there being no buyers their interest rates are on the rise - some as high as 20 per cent plus."
Ms Nenke was also appalled by the Pastoralists and Graziers Association's (PGA) disapproval of such an arrangement.
"I'm really disturbed the PGA told the Government it shouldn't support anything like this," she said.
"How dare the PGA speak for people when their Wheatbelt membership is so questionable."
On April 15 (the same day about 1000 farmers and community people filled Merredin's recreation centre to fight for a State Government scheme to prevent the collapse of farming in the region) PGA president Rob Gillam wrote to Premier Colin Barnett to discourage such a scheme.
The letter said "while the PGA was sympathetic to the plight of those farmers in the eastern Wheatbelt who are unable to secure the necessary finance to put in a crop, the PGA objects to the introduction of interest rate subsidies as a measure to assist growers in marginal areas affected by adverse weather conditions."
Mr Gillam wrote that "experience had shown that Exceptional Circumstances Interest Rate Subsidies delay change and rural adjustment by keeping otherwise unviable farms in business longer than would otherwise be the case."
The letter said "the PGA believed that the emphasis in future policy should shift strongly towards assisting drought preparedness and away from direct business support during a drought event, while maintaining or possibly increasing access to welfare support for those individuals wishing to exit the agricultural industry."
It also said "measures such as improved training and education and farm management deposits are more effective than interest rate or transaction subsidies in encouraging risk management and preparedness for exceptional circumstances."
WAFarmers wrote to Mr Barnett three days before the PGA urging him to commit up to $100 million to a low interest rate loan scheme administered under strict conditions by the Rural Business Development Corporation.
WAFarmers president Dale Park said the potential scheme should become available to all farmers, not just grain growers in the Eastern Wheatbelt.