THE Federal government has delayed the renewal of Rural Financial Counselling Services (RFCS) contracts a further three months, giving existing service providers a $3.5 million extension through to March 31 next year.
Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce said the extension would provide certainty for clients and the 14 contractors nationwide, while allowing time for the merit-based competitive grants process to allocate a new round of contracts.
It is the second time RFCS contracts have been extended this year, with the 2011-15 agreements initially due to expire last month, and then on December 31.
"The RFCS provides a vital service to farm businesses and other rural businesses, and this extension will allow counsellors to provide continuity of service for their clients," Mr Joyce said.
"With the impacts of drought continuing to put pressure on farm businesses in many parts of the country, it is more important than ever that farmers have certainty about the services and support available to them."
The RFCS provides free, impartial and confidential financial counselling to help farmers, fishers and agriculture-dependent small businesses in their decision making.
There are about 120 qualified rural financial counsellors working nationally, with the NSW contingent among four service providers: northern region, southern region, Central West, and Bourke.
Almost $24 million of the national $70m RFCS pool is allocated to NSW providers, with the NSW government also chipping in.
Mr Joyce said the department had been working to implement many of the recommendations of the National Rural Advisory Council review of the service to ensure it is best meeting the needs of clients.
A spokesman said the program would remain under the auspices of the Department of Agriculture.
The Land was told the new grants round would open soon.