Few seek drought assistance payments

By Carmen Hall

The drought declaration has cleared the way for farmers to apply for a non-recoverable rural assistance payment (RAP) but figures from the Department for Social Development show few have received help.

In the 2010 drought, 16 Bay of Plenty people received the payment compared with 18 in the 2009 drought. No applications have been received this year.

Bay of Plenty Rural Support Trust chairman Derek Spratt said he had fielded about 10 calls from farmers, share milkers and farm employees about RAP.

The payment was income and asset tested and not a hand-out, he said.

Federated Farmers president Bruce Wills said nationally 100 received the payment during the 2008-10 droughts.

The low figures were pleasing, as RAP was designed as an absolute bottom-of-the-cliff safety net for a small number of rural families, he said.

"To qualify, you are almost out of business anyway - if you have lost all your equity and have no means whatsoever to borrow any money to get you through the tough times.

It is very heavily means tested, so in a nutshell you only get it if there is no other way you can afford to feed your family."

Farmers did not expect any special treatment and he likened the droughts to the Christchurch earthquakes and floods, where government assistance was available through the adverse event act.

"A drought declaration is not about the financial assistance, it's about the emotional assistance. If more than 50 farmers from around the country apply for RAP during these droughts, I'd be surprised and concerned, because that would tell me they have got to the end of their tether ... the end of the road."

Farmers were a proud bunch and Mr Spratt hoped pride would not stop them coming forward.

The trust could provide a free facilitator who would visit their farm to discuss their situation, explain the RAP criteria and also network with other organisations if required.

Since his appointment as chairman in 2006, only one Bay of Plenty farmer had sold up and walked off their farm due to the droughts, he said.

For help from the Rural Support Trust, contact 0800 787 254.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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