Change is coming to the $1 billion Farm Innovation Fund, with indications Labor has plans to restructure and rebadge it as a drought infrastructure fund.
This is according to Minister for Agriculture and Regional NSW Tara Moriarty in a response to questions from Nationals MLC Sam Farraway during a recent budget estimates hearing.
She said there was more than $100 million remaining in the Farm Innovation Fund, the fund's website also putting that figure at just over $125m.
Ms Moriarty said the government was repurposing the fund to be a drought infrastructure fund "so that we can be really clear with farmers about what support is available for them to prepare their infrastructure properly".
The NSW Department of Primary Industries director Scott Hansen told estimates the existing Farm Innovation Fund could be used as a starting template.
"We know that of the approved loan applications to date, which the minister highlighted as 3200, 730 of those fall into the category of drought preparedness infrastructure," he said.
However, NSW Nationals leader Dugald Saunders has been critical of Ms Moriarty, claiming she "really isn't across what she needs to be as the Minister of Agriculture for regional NSW and for Western NSW, when she was fairly pointedly asked around support that might be there for people with drought".
"She was asked about a month ago in Orange at the DPI headquarters and talked about the fact that farmers know how to plan for dry weather," Mr Saunders said.
"She was asked again recently in budget estimates what sort of planning she had as the minister, and again the answer was a fairly roundabout way of saying people should know what to do in a drought.
"We've got about 27 per cent of the North Coast and intense drought areas of the Upper Hunter and drought areas across the western central parts of NSW heading into intense drought."
Mr Saunders said the Farm Innovation Fund, to which the previous coalition government had committed a billion dollars as a pledge for the 2023 state election, would have provided certainty around low-interest loans to build resilience.
"If you can build resilience, you get about three-and-a-half to four times the value per dollar than you do by giving a handout," he said.
"We're hearing now about a drought infrastructure fund.
"There needs to be more detail about what that will be. I suspect it will be just a rebranding of what our Farm Innovation Fund was, but with no extra money."
The Land contacted Ms Moriarty for further comment.
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