Growers facing financial hardship are being urged to make the most of free financial counselling on offer, which could provide vital assistance to see them through difficult times.
Rural financial counsellors like Nick Birchley are available to assist growers, through the Queensland Farm Finance Strategy, which is jointly funded by the Queensland Farmers Federation, the Queensland Government and the Australian Bankers Association.
With banana growers experiencing some of the lowest prices on record in the past year, many continue to face crippling debt.
Mr Birchley said while some growers were reluctant to seek financial assistance, often the support he provided was enough to resolve many financial issues and help them survive through future hard times.
“Financial difficulties can arise through circumstances beyond a farmer’s control, such as natural disasters, disease incursions or commodity price collapse,” Mr Birchley said.
“Other difficulties can arise through individual family or business circumstances, such as family illness or relationship breakdowns, or business issues that have gone wrong for whatever reason,” he said.
“Counsellors assist producers through these hardships and, if necessary, can engage the assistance of other professional services.”
One of the key roles a financial counsellor can play is helping a producer devise a business model that speaks a bank’s language.
“When you’re in a situation, the bank has a certain perspective and you have a different perspective. What we can do is put together a business plan that will suit the bank, a plan that gives the bank a better picture of your farm.”
“There may be people who have some pretty poor cashflow situations, but the banker doesn’t appreciate that for the last three years they may have had a significant planting, or they’re coming through where they have rejuvenated paddocks or something like that.
“And, we’ve had a lot of experience with the banks, whereby just giving them that perspective has really made them far more comfortable to support you.”
Mr Birchley has more than 12 years experience assisting banana growers and other farming families and points out that all counselling services are highly confidential.
He believes there is likely to be many banana growers that could benefit from his assistance at present, given the industry’s extended period of prices below the cost of production, coupled with the added expense of having to implement improved biosecurity measures in the wake of Panama TR4.
Mr Birchley is based at South Johnstone and can be contacted on 0448 460 309. For Rural Financial Counselling Services in other regions go to the website at www.rfcsnq.com.au.