COVID-19 stimulus to help regions and farmers as economic turbulence takes hold

This week the Federal Government announced a stimulus package to combat the economic shock of COVID-19. The package includes a number of measures to assist farm businesses.

The package comes amid a horror week for markets, with the ASX200 down 30% from its February peak on Friday, and the Dow Jones seeing its worst trading day since 1987’s ‘Black Monday’ sell-off.

On Thursday, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic – coinciding with Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s announcement of a $17.6 billion economic stimulus package to keep Australians in jobs.

NFF CEO Tony Mahar said the package was a welcomed boost for agriculture and the bush.

“The measures in today’s stimulus package will benefit farm businesses, small businesses and households,” Mr Mahar said.

The package includes tax relief for small businesses, one-off cash payments for welfare recipients as well as money to keep apprentices in work.

More than 6 million welfare recipients including pensioners, carers, veterans, families, young people and jobseekers will get a one-off cash payment of $750 from March 31.

The package also includes $1 billion for a ‘regional and community fund’ to support industries affected by the economic fallout of COVID-19 including agriculture.

“The NFF hopes the stimulus will be directed to those industries and regions already directly affected by the virus, for example the seafood industry and fishing communities,” Mr Mahar said.

$1b for communities and regional areas severely affected by the Coronavirus, and reliant on #tourism #agriculture #education industries. Part of the Australian Government’s Economic Response to the Coronavirus #Coronavirus.

— Australian Treasury (@Treasury_AU) March 12, 2020

The seafood industry has been among the hardest hit to date, with ABARES wiping $389 million from its seafood production forecast for the year ahead.

Price fluctuations for other commodities have been in part offset by a fall in the Australian dollar, however Australia’s wool and cotton industries are expected to feel the impact of the virus outbreak given widespread factory shutdowns and labour shortages across mainland China.

Australia’s red meat industry has remained strong despite a small decline in demand in China with Meat and Livestock Australia reporting a slight shift in beef export figures with total shipments easing 2 per cent compared to February 2019.

Mr Mahar said an emerging challenge was also managing a decline in the international workforce many farmers rely on.

“A large proportion of the agricultural sector including the horticulture, pork and grain sectors depend on seasonal workers or backpackers,” Mr Mahar said.

“We do not want to see a threat to the supply of fruits such as bananas, berries and citrus should there be a major disruption to these working visa arrangements.

“About three quarters of Australia’s agricultural output is exported.

“As the spread of the virus expands and market access and freight capacity contract, we can expect a wider negative impact on agriculture.”

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