IMPRESSED: Regional Investment Corporation interim CEO Matt Ryan.
IMPRESSED: Regional Investment Corporation interim CEO Matt Ryan.

Senior farmers look beyond drought for next generation

EVEN as they cope with more than four years of drought, over-55 farmers around the Toowoomba region are thinking about the future and aiming to ensure sustainability of farms for the next generation.

After visiting the area last month, Regional Investment Corporation interim CEO Matt Ryan said he was impressed with their resilience.

Matt said it was important for the RIC, launched on July 1 offering federal government-backed low-interest loans to farmers in need, to get out and meet producers and "start building relationships from the ground up".

Interestingly, his visit occurred on the same day as Joint Agency Drought Taskforce co-ordinator Major General Stephen Day, who has been asked to develop a national strategy for long-term drought resilience.

Matt said the farmers they spoke to saw the loans, which have now been doubled to a maximum $2 million, as giving them "breathing space during difficult times".

"All the farmers that we spoke to presented different scenarios of what their current situation is and what they could potentially use our farm business loans for," he said.

A number of over-55s asked if the loans could be used for succession planning and the answer was 'yes'.

"In most cases, our loans can be used for a very broad range of activities, including to pay for succession planning advice and to implement succession planning activities," Matt said.

Loans could also be used to refinance existing debt to free up cash flow, putting farmers in a better position to take advantage of future business opportunities, or to pay for operating expenses like transport and fodder or capital improvements, including sheds, silos and water infrastructure.

"The savings are significant - the difference between our 3.58% rate and a commercial rate puts an extra $40,000 into a farmer's pocket each year when borrowing $2 million," Matt said.

"To be eligible ... two of the key criteria are that the farm business is in financial need and is viable in the long term."

He urged farmers not to assume they would not qualify for the loans or to be reluctant to talk to banks about refinancing with the RIC, which was "taking a partnership approach with the banks".

Go to ric.gov.au or phone 1800875675 to find out more.

Meanwhile, as a result of the region's driest year since 1901, Toowoomba Regional Council introduced medium-level water restrictions of 200 litres per person per day from September 18 to Brookstead, Cambooya, Cecil Plains, Clifton, Greenmount, Hodgson Vale, Pittsworth, Southbrook and Valeview (all of which rely on bores for water supply) in a bid to take pressure off local aquifers. Yarraman is also affected.

 

Council is also doing its bit for drought-affected rural property owners, voting unanimously to defer payment of rates and water rates issued during the first half of the 2018/19 financial year for those affected. "The conditions have placed significant financial and emotional pressures on the communities in our area and the decision today will help reduce some of that pressure," Mayor Paul Antonio said. For details contact the council on 131872.