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No drought assistance requests from West Coast farmers

By Ben Aulakh of the Westport News

Not a single West Coast farmer has applied for financial assistance following the region's drought declaration on March 22.

Under the declaration, farmers struggling financially can apply to the Ministry for Social Development (MSD) for rural assistance payments.

Ministry spokesman Dominic McGurk said the ministry had received no applications from Coast farmers so far.

The payments are the farming equivalent of the unemployment benefit and are paid at the same rate - $80 a week - as a grant that does not need to be paid back.

Federated Farmers' West Coast chairwoman Katie Milne said she wasn't surprised no Coast farmers had applied.

"The drought hasn't been declared for that long, really the main financial crunch time is going to come more in the winter. It's when the bills come in for all the feed and the production isn't there.''

Farmers were paid a month in arrears, so those who had had to dry their cows off early would receive nothing from now on.

The Bank of New Zealand has offered to suspend farmers' loan repayments and waive fees on business loans and investments.

BNZ head of agribusiness Richard Bowman said that so far the only assistance farmers on the Coast had sought from the bank were top-ups to current overdrafts, mainly to manage the temporary rise in feed and farming costs.

Only a very small number of regional farmers had needed more significant drought assistance.

However, Mr Bowman said more farmers could seek the bank's help in the future as they sought to replace feed originally set aside for winter, but used during the drought.

CRT technical feed specialist Andrew Mitchell said last Friday that some Coast farmers would have to spend tens of thousands of dollars on extra feed.

Coast farmers needing help have been encouraged to contact their local Rural Support Trust.

The Inland Revenue Department also offers farmers flexibility in paying taxes.

Inland Revenue senior media adviser David Miller said most Coasters hadn't filed their tax returns yet, so it was too early to say how many farmers had sought help paying their taxes.

- APNZ

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