Farmers are warning of future food shortages if they don't get fast cash to help get crops in the ground
As Australia's political leaders urge shoppers to stop panic buying, farmers - borrowed up to the hilt after a run of bad seasons - have warned there could be problems down the line if they don't get urgent help.
Tracy Blackburn is a cattle, sheep and grain farmer from Dubbo in NSW. After back-to-back bad seasons, she is facing a narrowing window to plant with no capital to do it.
"We've had a run of four bad years now, it started off in 2016 with flooding. 2017 we ended up with a dry finish, and that was actually the start of the drought," Ms Blackburn said.
"Turns out 2018 wasn't better. 2018 turned out to be worse. And as you know, that's when the drought really took a big hold, we used up a lot of resources trying to keep things going, crops obviously failed, there wasn't much coming out at the end of it now
"At the end of 2018, it was a bit of rejigging again, rejigging your finances and taking a breath and hanging on for dear life and going like '2019 has got to be better because law of averages would say that after three ordinary years the fourth one surely to God couldn't be as bad'.
"Turned out 2019 was worse than 2018 in the fact that we had more dust storms, it was drier, there was no harvest whatsoever for us. Now we sit here at 2020 things are nice and green and that's all very well. However, a lot of us have exhausted our resources and our ability to actually capitalise the full potential of a good season this year is severely diminished by our lack of working capital and our access to working capital. What we have is a big engine but not much oil."
Already, 10 per cent of crops in Western Australia would not proceed because they could not access working capital, Ms Blackburn said.
Ms Blackburn said if farmers couldn't afford to plant, it would lead to food shortages.
"My grain goes into producing your bread and your flours. So if we're not producing that, there goes your breads and flours. If you're not getting your oat crops or your barley crops ... they go into stock feeds, which then go into things like your grain-fed beef, your Maccas hamburgers, whatever else, it also goes into your chicken feed which then becomes either your egg production or poultry production, so your KFC is out the window," Ms Blackburn said.
Malcolm Lloyd Jones, a mixed farmer with a property between Junee and Cootamundra, has just had his third crop in a row fail.
He has had to increase his borrowings over the last three years to maintain cash flow and get another crop in. but is now facing difficulty getting more funds.
"We're at a stage where we don't want to borrow any more money because we're stretched borrowing wise. And that's why we need a cash injection from the government just to get us back on track," Mr Jones said.
His son will be the seventh generation of his family to farm his property. He fears there will be food shortages if help doesn't arrive soon.
"Imagine if there was no food about, what they'd be doing in the supermarket. If they're doing that over toilet paper, what are they going to do if the bloody food runs out," Mr Jones said.
There's also the question of labour, if somehow they manage to get a crop in.
Ms Blackburn said they relied on backpackers as part of their workforce at harvest time.
The coronavirus lockdown, which will now see foreign nationals barred from entering the country indefinitely, has thrown that workforce into doubt.
"We're already looking at it going how they hell are we going to do it, if we have a harvest, fingers crossed," Ms Blackburn said.
Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said the government was "very close" to announcing changes to extend visas of seasonal workers already in the country.
The communique from a meeting of agriculture ministers on Thursday said Australia was in the "fortunate position of producing enough food for 75 million people with a population of only 25 million".
His office did not respond to questions about whether extra help for farmers would be forthcoming in the Morrison government's next round of stimulus.
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