MAJOR banks have committed to accelerating 2017 finance requirements for farm businesses affected by frost this season.
The Agri-Finance Alliance WA (AFWA), which comprises the major agricultural lenders, met last week with the Department of Agriculture and Food WA (DAFWA) acting director general Mark Webb to discuss the widespread impact frost has had on yields and what this will mean for growers' balance sheet for 2017.
AFWA chairman Andrew Clark said the meeting was normally held quarterly but had been pushed back to last week in order to get a fuller understanding of the affect that frost - as well as waterlogging and disease - had had on this year's yield and the implications for growers.
The multiple and widespread frosts during late August and through to October saw the Grain Industry Association of WA (GIWA) revise its harvest estimates from September's projection of 17.6 million tonnes down to just over 15mt last month.
CBH estimates the final harvest total to be between 13-14mt.
Mr Clark said local bank representatives had been working with their clients to understand the full affect of frost at a local level.
He said while it was still early as harvest in the more frost affected areas was just getting underway - and it had generally been a slow start to harvest overall - so far it could end up "better than expected" for some growers.
"We are hearing that in some paddocks that were thought to be a total wipeout, there is still something there to harvest," Mr Clark said.
He said affected farm businesses should contact their bank as soon as possible to start working through their situation and secure financial arrangements for next season.
"Banks with the AFWA are committed to being proactive and speaking to farmers about their financial situation, but in the meantime growers should contact their bank to put their minds at ease,'' Mr Clark said.
"The important thing is for growers to finish harvest with some financial certainty, have a break over Christmas and come back refreshed for 2017.
"What banks can do in regards to finance options is dependent on individual circumstances but most people's balance sheet is very positive and will be in a position to take on debt to get on with the next season."
He said AFWA also encouraged growers and their families whose businesses had been affected by frost to seek support.
"Free, independent and confidential services such as the Rural Financial Counselling Service of WA can assist with information and options to aid decision making, while the Regional Men's Health Initiative provides health and wellbeing support," Mr Clark said.
Mr Webb welcomed WA's banking sector's commitment to accelerate 2017 finance requirements for frost-affected farming businesses.
"I commend the alliance's support for affected farm business through this difficult time and to consider carry-on finance so growers can prepare their 2017 cropping with certainty," Mr Webb said.
With harvest in full swing, he said it was a timely reminder for growers to consider farm business risk management to protect their income from the affect of unforeseen events, such as frost.
A one-off rebate of $2500 is available to assist businesses with applications for multi-peril crop insurance (MPCI) from the Commonwealth's Managing Farm Risk program.
Farm Management Deposits are another option that allow growers who earn less than $100,000 in off-farm income to deposit funds, tax free.
Families experiencing financial hardship can also access Farm Household Allowance support payments, while DAFWA has Farm Business Training programs to assist with short and long-term planning and also frost support services, cropping tools and advice.
Mr Clark said growers should discuss the pros and cons of MPCI and similar products with their local bank representative.
"In general, we are very supportive of any product that mitigates risk to growers such as MPCI," Mr Clark said.
Next year will also potentially mark the start of frost-tolerant wheat trials in WA as part of the Grains Research & Development Corporation's National Frost Initiative.
Pending approval by the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator, both genetically modified wheat and barley will be screened, with up to seven different genes to be assessed in wheat and barley at DAFWA's New Genes for New Environments facilities at Merredin and Katanning.