Banks key to long-term drought recovery

Banks determined not to foreclose drought-affected farmers

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Allora farmer David Peters with Australian Banking Association CEO Anna Bligh and AgForce general president Georgie Somerset discussing important aspects of the drought recovery process.

Allora farmer David Peters with Australian Banking Association CEO Anna Bligh and AgForce general president Georgie Somerset discussing important aspects of the drought recovery process.

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Farmers are urged to speak to their banks early and often as the drought worsens across much of the state.

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With a short-term rainfall outlook that can only be described as disappointing, many in the agriculture sector are turning their focus to a long-term plan of attack.

Recovery has become just as important as rain, with Queensland farmers and AgForce meeting agribusiness banking representatives and Australian Banking Association CEO Anna Bligh on Thursday for a roundtable discussion about what a recovery process could look like.

Gathering at David Peter's property on the Southern Downs, AgForce general president Georgie Somerset said as the drought continues, it becomes all the more important that farmers are having conversations with their banks.

"Banks are our partners in agriculture, we simply can't do what we do without finance, and we've been partners for a long time," Ms Somerset said.

"This is about starting that conversation or continuing that conversation to make sure that we're all understanding what we're facing.

"And we're facing, in a sense, new uncharted waters with the seasonal conditions that we've had and the seasonal conditions that we're facing for 2020."

Key to the discussion about the recovery process was how long it would take for farmers to make an income after they receive enough rain and timely followup falls.

Australian Banking Association CEO Anna Bligh said banks were aware that even if it rained in the next few months, producers would not have an income for another 18 months or longer.

"Banks know that as the drought worsens, they will be important partners in not only helping farmers get through the really tough times ahead, but importantly get ready for recovery when it comes," Ms Bligh said.

"Australian banks have invested in and been long-term funding partners for the agriculture sector in the Australian economy.

"Banks do worry when their customers are going through this kind of problem - individual customers are very well known to their banks - but I think it's a much bigger worry to all Australians.

"This is a sector of the economy that produces the food and fibre that support the nation and if banks can do anything to ensure that when rain comes these farmers are still here, they are ready for recovery and ready to become significant producers as quickly as possible, then it helps everybody."

Despite 67.4 per cent of Queensland being drought declared and 65.7pc of NSW categorised as being in drought or intense drought, Ms Bligh said there had been almost no foreclosures on farmers and banks were determined to keep it that way.

"Right now, most farmers are surviving and getting by financially, they may be facing many other challenges but they are getting by financially," Ms Bligh said.

"What we do know, and one of the reasons that we're here now, is that that's going to get tougher. We're going to see more farmers putting their hand up with their bank saying 'I need you to help me think about my loans and my finances differently while we get through the next couple of years'."

Representatives from all major Australian banks, and most regional banks, travelled to the Southern Downs for a first-hand look at the region and to engage in the discussion about a possible recovery plan.

Rural Bank chief operating officer Will Rayner said the most important message to farmers was that they should speak with their banker early and often.

"It's absolutely vital that we keep the lines of communication open between banks and customers because at the end of the day we're all invested in this industry and we all need to work together to come out of it," Mr Rayner said.

"We're dealing with really extreme but short-term issues, but we're all invested in the long-term future of agriculture so we have to work together to come out the other end."

Queensland Country Life

The story Banks key to long-term drought recovery first appeared on Queensland Country Life.

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