Farmers warned to prepare for some tough times ahead

MONARO rural producers are being urged to drought-proof their farms because government assistance has dried up and banks are getting tougher.

The federally funded Rural Financial Counselling Service executive officer Ian McGufficke stressed there is not much government assistance available any more and there is not likely to be in the future.

"The old exceptional circumstances program is going to be replaced in 2014 with a new drought policy," he said.

"Farmers need to be more proactive for tough times."

Based in Cooma, Mr McGufficke manages the service's huge southern region which extends from the Victorian border to Sydney and west to Ivanhoe.

"In the past a lot of our work has been helping administer drought assistance programs or drought relief," Mr McGufficke said.

"At the moment we perceive our role has changed to a more proactive approach to help farmers plan to strengthen their business and undertake drought proofing.

"For example managing your debt better and preparing your enterprise to be more resilient for periods of drought, changes in commodity prices, or availability of fodder and stock feed."

One of about 10 rural financial counsellors in the southern region, Leanne Jardine assists farmers on the Monaro, Braidwood, Queanbeyan and the south coast, across the wool, meat, livestock, dairy and oyster industries.

Ms Jardine said since the global financial crisis banks have toughened up.

"Some farmers haven't been able to get their debt levels back to a serviceable level after the drought, or after expanding their farm." Ms Jardine said.

"Managing" debt and better understanding their financial positions is ongoing.

"Our role should be seen as an organisation to help farmers better plan for their future in planning to achieve an outcome that will make them more resilient and successful."

She also said succession planning is another issue facing farmers.

"Our job is to make the concept of succession planning available and take preliminary steps along that path, it is an issue everywhere.

"In the last year we ran a course on succession planning and understanding farm financial statements, which were well received.

"Hopefully farmers will see us as a service that will provide value and direction and information at any stage and not only if they receive a nasty letter from their bank manager."

Ms Jardine said she would like to hold more workshops and wants to hear from primary producers about what they would like information on.

Leanne Jardine can be contacted on 6452 5059 or 0447 467 964 or email her at ljardine@rfcsnsw-sr.com.au .

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