Drought declaration 'a show of support'

TRACEY CHATTERTON
Last updated 05:00 07/03/2013

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Declaring drought is more about morale than the money, according to a Hawke's Bay farmer.

"It makes us feel better really, that people are recognising that we've a problem," Takapau farmer David Hunt said.

Hawke's Bay, South Auckland, Waikato and Bay of Plenty were declared to be in drought by Minister for Primary Industries Nathan Guy yesterday. Northland was the first region to be officially announced in drought last week.

During summer, parts of Northland and north Auckland, the Bay of Plenty including Taupo, and areas of Hawke's Bay and Wairarapa received only about a third of normal rainfall. Many other North Island regions had only about half of normal.

Declaring the medium-scale event gives Rural Support Trusts extra government funding. Farmers can also apply for a rural assistance payment, the equivalent of the unemployment benefit.

If people have to use their farm equity to put food on the table and have no realisable assets, they would probably qualify for the payment, Rural Support Trust Hawke's Bay co-ordinator Mike Barham said.

The tight criteria meant few farmers were eligible for the payment. In 2009, 20 Hawke's Bay farmers received the payment.

Mr Barham expected a similar number would receive the payment this year as the region came off the back of the driest six-month spell since 1950.

The declaration was more a show of support for farmers, said Mr Hunt, who chairs the dairy branch of Federated Farmers Hawke's Bay.

"Most farmers are pretty good at helping themselves but if you can't buy feed because your cashflow won't allow or you can't find it, it's good to know you can source outside expertise to find it."

Mr Hunt believed most farmers were better prepared than in previous drought years because of the good returns from last year.

Spearheading the region's response, Mr Barham spent much of yesterday fielding inquiries from farmers. Help from a Rural Support Trust includes negotiating financial arrangements, practical rural advice and counselling.

He would also be putting people in touch with ANZ, ASB and BNZ banks, which had all announced drought assistance packages to those affected.

BNZ was offering immediate overdraft approval of up to $100,000 at a special 6 per cent interest rate to affected farmers, alongside immediate access to emergency family funding of up to $10,000.

The minister was also keeping a close watch on other parts of the East Coast, as well as Wairarapa, Manawatu and Taranaki.

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Government assistance includes the unemployment benefit, emergency benefit, and special needs grants to meet immediate needs and Rural Assistance Payments (at same rate as the unemployment benefit, after an asset and income test).

Help from Work and Income includes childcare assistance, family tax credits and accommodation supplements and from Working for Families, and tax relief, such as filing extensions and options to pay tax in instalments.

Inland Revenue assistance includes advice and support, such as workshops, meetings, technical and financial advice.

- The Dominion Post

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