Govt legislation against producers

“WHO is going to produce food in the future?” Widgee beef producer Fabian Webb asked yesterday.

Mr Webb was responding to rural lending survey figures from the QRAA (Queensland Rural Adjustment Authority) and Minister Tim Mulherin’s comments that “Queensland’s primary industries continue to be promising”.

Gympie region producers’ views seemed to fly in the face of what government departments claimed was an optimistic rural future for the state.

Mr Webb’s Thornside property has been in the family since 1882 and Mr Webb himself has spent a lifetime in the cattle industry, but he is more than a little concerned about the future.

Between rates’ increase, freehold land rights, vegetation rights, fuel costs and living expenses, the beef industry stalwart said “cattle prices are nothing fantastic”.

“Thornside is a very productive property but it’s not producing anything like it’s capable of producing,” he said.

“I think government legislation and conditions make it difficult to make it more viable. We’re surviving, but the future is a big concern to me.

“There’s no incentive for younger people.”

Dairy farmer and real estate proprietor John Cochrane has similar views, saying that “young blokes are going to the mines where they can make $120,000 a year”.

“Why would they slog it out of a family farm?” He said inquiries for rural businesses are “extremely quiet”.

“Prior to the financial downturn, people were coming out of the city and buying property,” he said. “They were more hobby farms that gave a financial return, picked up capital gains and gave a lifestyle.

“When the financial down turn hit, they went back to their four bedroom, double lock-up and ensuites. No-one wanted small acreage and pools. The urban money stopped and there’s been real trouble getting people to buy farms.”

Progressive Dairies’ group secretary and National Foods supplier Robyn Plunkett said while rural lending might have increased the loans “have to be paid back”.

“As far as the milk industry’s capacity to pay back, people are coming off contracts and are being offered 10 cents a litre drop in their price for their milk,” she said.

“The Queensland Dairy Accounting Scheme says we need to make 53c/litre as a minimum sustainable price. We are being offered 46.19c/litre for 72 per cent of last year’s contracted milk (base price) and 30.39c/litre base for any other milk.

“We are not whingers and we don’t want to be millionaires,” she said. “We just want a fair day’s pay for a day’s hard work.”

Goomboorian small crops farmer Peter Buchanan said describing the primary industries sector as having a promising future was “criminal and misleading”.

“They’re having a lend of themselves,” he said.

“You can’t survive in the horticultural industry. The dairy industry is being slaughtered by the steady decline in growth. We are not getting the return on our crops that we got 10 years ago. If there’s more rural lending it’s not because we are making a profit, it’s because we are borrowing against an asset in the hope that it will turn around.”

Despite the global financial crisis and dramatic climatic conditions over the past few years, Minister for Primary Industries, Fisheries and Rural and Regional Queensland Tim Mulherin said Queensland agribusiness was growing as a key investment sector and that indicated “producers and banks have confidence in the sector’s future.”

QRAA CEO Colin Holden acknowledged there was drought inspired rural lending but that financial institutions were saying investment in the industry was still strong.

“We see this as a good thing,” he said.

“The Gympie Regional Council area has a $113 million total debt from 236 A and B category (viable under all circumstances and viable long-term but experiencing debt servicing difficulties) borrowers and a total 284 borrowers from all categories.

That equates to about $470,800 and $398,00 per borrower respectively which is almost half the average debt at a state level.”

Responding to producer’s comments about the uncertainty of the future, Mr Holden said that “producers can be conservative.”

Agforce president John Cotter was not available for comment.

Gympie Times

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