Farmers: are food producers valued?

THE State's peak farming body has called for a conversation as a community about the place agriculture holds in Victorian society.

Victorian Farmers Federation president, David Jochinke said that the VFF does not support knee-jerk reactions to drought or other important policy topics, but wants a conversation about long-term support for food producers. 

"Do we as a State and community value the role farmers play in delivering us food – safe, sustainable, reliably supplied and delivered produce?" he said.

"If we as a society value our farmers, then it is time to act and deliver a level playing field for them.

"As we look around the drought impacted areas we can see our farmers' care and commitment to animal welfare and the produce they supply. In addition to battling this near once-in-a-lifetime event, our farmers are working under sub-standard conditions - no fit-for-purpose roads, no reliable energy supply and many cannot even access basic telephone or internet coverage."

Mr Jochinke said that the VFF "notes" the announcement of drought support by the Victorian Government that acknowledged the devastating drought conditions across the State.

The Government will provide payments of up to $2500 to dairy farmers in northern Victoria who receive the Farm Household Allowance, to provide immediate support that will help them ease cost-of-living pressures.

An additional $1 million will be provided for a Drought Hardship Fund, which will provide additional payments to farmers who are struggling but don't qualify for a Drought Hardship Support Payment.

The Government will also provide $5 million to extend the On-Farm Drought Infrastructure Grants program.

Nationals Leader, Peter Walsh has savaged the Government over its package, claiming that farmers were "bitterly disappointed". "(It) is a disappointing token gesture," he said. 

"The package is a long way short of what farmers have been calling for and what they were expecting. 

This is a $13 million band-aid and it's grossly inadequate in the context of the catastrophic conditions that have been slowly crushing our farmers for months now. 

"Farmers are watching the bills pile up. Some faced rates notices this month of tens of thousands of dollars, while at the same time spending thousands of dollars each week to keep livestock fed and watered." 

He repeated the Opposition's plea for a program of council rates rebates and fixed water rates as soon as possible.

Labor Member for Northern Victoria, Mark Gepp said that the Government's package would help ease the financial burden of the unprecedented conditions.

Northern and north-western Victoria are experiencing ongoing dry seasonal conditions following significantly below average rainfall throughout 2018, with dairy farmers particularly impacted by high temporary water and feed prices.

Mr Jochinke said that the drought in Victoria is a near once-in-a-lifetime event and is certainly taking its toll on farm businesses and the mental resilience of farmers.

"We are here today supporting our members and encouraging both State and Federal Governments to work together on a co-ordinated drought response that delivers real on-the-ground solutions, for both the short term and the longer term preparedness.

"We are seeing the perfect storm unfold with prolonged drought, feed costs doubling, farmers spending most of their days hand-feeding stock, and no end in sight in the near future."

Mr Jochinke said that the VFF called on both the State and Commonwealth Governments to understand the gravity of this situation and work in bipartisan collaboration to support farmers and the food and fibre they provide us.

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