Surge in demand for RBS help after new support measures announced

Rural Business Support (RBS) has requested additional government funding for resourcing to ensure South Australian producers can access the support they need to capitalise on new Federal assistance measures for farming families announced this week.

On Sunday Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud announced that $5 million would be made available for “boots on the ground” funding for the Rural Financial Counselling Service (RFCS), which is delivered by RBS in South Australia and the Northern Territory.

The invitation for RFCS providers to apply for extra funding coincided with the Federal Government’s announcements of new supplementary payments for Farm Household Allowance (FHA) recipients and the increase of the farm asset threshold from $2.6 million to $5 million.

RBS has experienced a significant surge in demand for assistance over the past month with client numbers increasing 15%. This includes 12 new clients being added to the books on Monday alone, following Sunday’s announcement by the Prime Minister.

RBS CEO Brett Smith expects a continued increase in demand for rural financial counselling services as word of the extra Federal financial assistance gathers momentum.

“This is terrific news out of Canberra for producers in SA and NT,” Mr Smith said. “The extra support measures are timely and will provide a needed financial and morale boost for local producers experiencing financial hardship.

“RBS is working hard to ensure we soon have additional resources on the ground to assist those families in need of a bit of extra FHA support to help them back on their feet.

“Whether producers are applying for FHA for the first time, are seeking to extend their existing payment into a fourth year, or are requesting the supplementary payments, our team is well positioned to help them navigate this often complex process.

“It’s also important here that producers don’t self-assess – it’s best to talk to a rural financial counsellor about their eligibility. In some cases families think they’re ineligible but they may be short changing themselves.”

Subject to funding being secured, RBS plans to set up regional support booths where producers will be able to meet with a rural financial counsellor to work through and lodge their FHA applications on the spot.

Beyond assisting producers with applications for FHA, RBS can also help farming families to develop and manage cash flow budgets, support them with preparing for meetings with bankers and explore other options to potentially build profitability.

Mr Smith said the areas of most concern in SA included the Eastern Eyre Peninsula, Mid/Upper Northern regions and the Mallee/Upper South East region towards the Victoria/NSW border. Limited pasture growth and significantly diminished fodder reserves are of concern and are having a considerable impact on livestock producer cash flows.

“While conditions are not as dire as we’re hearing about on the eastern seaboard, farmers in South Australia are still experiencing hardship due to the dry conditions and a slow start to the season,” Mr Smith said.

“The 2018 growing season rainfall has been well below average across all regions of SA barring the lower South East.

“There are concerns in all regions regarding yields and returns with expectations of lower than average finishing rainfall in the coming months. Although we’ve received welcomed rain in recent days, follow up rainfall is very much needed.”

Under the changes announced this week, households eligible for FHA – a fortnightly payment totalling around $16,000 a year to help farming families in tough times – will receive two additional lump sum payments on 1 September 2018 and 1 March 2019. Couples in a household will receive up to an additional $12,000 and single households will receive up to $7200.

It will also be easier to qualify for FHA with the increase of the net asset threshold cap from $2.6 million to $5 million, which means producers who have up to $5 million in net assets locked up in their farms will now be able to access the FHA payment. The Department for Agriculture estimates an additional 8000 producers across Australia could become eligible for FHA support as a result.

The RFCS is free, independent and confidential. Rural financial counsellors can also refer producers to wellbeing support if this is needed.

To talk to a rural financial counsellor please call 1800 836 211. If you are asked to leave a message, be assured one of our team will be in contact with you within 48 hours. If producers have previously worked with a rural financial counsellor, they are welcome to contact them directly.