A leading researcher in the economics of the farming sector has welcomed the national drought policy announced today but says more is needed for those leaving the land.
Victoria University's Centre for Strategic Economics Studies researcher Dr Anthony Kent said a survey of 400 Victorian farmers in the wake of the 2010 drought showed the scale of the crisis faced by farmers justified government intervention.
"Almost a quarter of farming households are using off-farm income, mostly off-farm work, just to meet household expenses," he said. "Meanwhile many of them are juggling large amounts of debt, which is the single greatest cause of farm exits and also a source of great anxiety for many farmers."
He said the underfunding of crucial financial and psychological counselling services in rural areas had long been an issue.
"Today's promise of a co-ordinated, collaborative approach to the provision of social support services, along with taxation measures allowing farmers to consolidate debt, are very positive steps in the right direction," he said.
Dr Kent said another critical area was education and training to inform farmer decision making and provide more career options.
"Almost 40% of farmers use some form of expert advice, particularly agronomists. Improving skills of farmers will enhance their knowledge base and reduce the costs of external consultants," he said.
"Agronomists, who are in constant demand, may also provide the key occupational stepping stone for ex-farmers who want to retain a link to the agricultural sector in their local areas. But for this to occur TAFE colleges in rural areas need to be refunded to provide this training."
Available for interview:
Dr Anthony Kent, researcher
College of Business, Victoria University
0407 946 963; (03) 9919 1452; firstname.lastname@example.org
Michael Quin, research writer
Public Affairs Department, Victoria University
0431 815 409; (03) 9919 9491; email@example.com