Fire-affected farmers offered $75,000 grants for recovery

Grants of $75,000 to get fire-hit farms back up and running

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Up to 20,000 farmers could benefit in Australia

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Up to 20,000 farmers hit by bushfires around the country have been offered grants of $75,000 to help them recover.

The Federal Government today announced the grants, similar to those given to flood-hit farmers in Queensland last year.

The relief funds can be used to fix many types of farm infrastructure including fences, solar panels and also for paying vets, disposal of dead stock and infrastructure damaged by the fires.

The eligibility rules are being finalised, but Federal Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie promised they would not be onerous in an effort to get relief money to farmers as quickly as possible.

Mrs McKenzie said all types of farmers had been hurt by the fires from oyster farmers, to beef and sheep producers, apiarists, horticulture and viticulture by fires in most states. It is estimated Australia may have lost up to 1 per cent of its national beef herd in the fires. The total wool clip is also expected to be cut.

She said some farmers had lost all their herd while they fought as volunteer firefighters to save Victorian towns such as Walwa.

She also promised there would be further announcements to support towns hit hard by the loss of forest resources such as Tumut, Tumbarumba, Eden and in east Gippsland.

She applauded milk processors for sticking by dairy farmers who could not get product out, still delivering milk cheques.

The relief money is being paid out of the $2 billion fire recovery fund announced recently by the Federal Government.

Prime Minster Scott Morrison said the category D assistance was made to get farmers back into production. "We need the cash in the hands of these producers so they can get on with the jobs that urgently need doing," he said.

He said the number of farmers to be offered grants was open-ended.

"I need to stress this is an uncapped program so if demand for support goes above $100 million, money will continue to flow.

"As the scale of the damage becomes apparent, it is clear that our farm, our fish and forest businesses need support and along with communities who depend on them, we will help them rebuild and we will continue to back them.

"This funding will support primary producers to access essentials like fodder and water, while also help rebuild fencing or hire vital agricultural equipment like water pumps, irrigation systems, horticultural netting and generators."

The Federal Government will also provide $15 million to fund 60 additional rural financial counsellors and support workers.

Mrs Mckenzie said: "This funding could help pay for tradespeople to conduct farm safety inspections, for veterinary fees, waste disposal and to repair any damaged property.

"Our farmers, fishers and foresters have been hit extremely hard by these terrible fires. I've seen firsthand, farmers who have left their properties to fight fires.

"Our farmers are resilient and very generous putting themselves on the line for their friends and neighbours."

She said the government was working "closely with farming groups to develop specific industry recovery plans."

The Government said as per distribution of the grants: "As with the grants for the North Queensland floods in early 2019, funds under the Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangement will be made available to state governments of impacted communities, on request, for delivery through their relevant state disaster response agency."

"Farmers who have been tackling the drought and have off-farm income won't be disadvantaged, the same off-farm income rules for Farm Household Allowance will apply. This means farmers that aren't eligible for Category C payments due to off-farm income rules will still be eligible for up to $75,000 to help them normalise their farm businesses as quickly as possible."

Funding will be available through the Emergency Bushfire Response in Primary Industries Grants Program.

"This assistance will be provided through a joint Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangement between states and territories and the Commonwealth Government." Further details would be announced as soon as state-based delivery arrangements are confirmed.

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