Farm ad­vo­cate group seeks new mem­bers

Countryman - - NEWS - Jenne Bram­mer

The Wheat­belt In­tegrity Group is open­ing it­self to new mem­bers in or­der to in­crease its pres­ence and clout when cham­pi­oning for bet­ter con­di­tions for farm­ers, and stem­ming the rapid de­cline in ru­ral pop­u­la­tion.

The WIG formed in 2014 and in­cludes fi­nan­cial ad­vis­ers, busi­ness lead­ers and politi­cians.

Chaired by Newde­gate farmer Nick Kelly, the group last week moved to open it­self up to wider mem­ber­ship in or­der to have a big­ger voice when ad­dress­ing is­sues af­fect­ing Wheat­belt farm­ers.

Mem­ber­ship is free and open to all farm­ers and other in­ter­ested par­ties, who can sign up via the web­site

The group de­ter­mined that from next year, af­ter the State elec­tion, there would be an em­pha­sis on high­light­ing the high lev­els of ru­ral sui­cide, and its as­so­ci­a­tion with ru­ral debt, in a bid to raise aware­ness and help ad­dress the is­sue.

Com­mit­tee mem­ber, Eyre MLA Dr Gra­ham Ja­cobs, said al­though there was no sin­gle point where sui­cide sta­tis­tics were col­lated in WA, re­search from other States in­di­cated sui­cide rates in ru­ral ar­eas were al­most dou­ble that of the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion.

He said there were about 40 sui­cides per 100,000 peo­ple in ru­ral ar­eas, com­pared to 25 per 100,000 in ur­ban ar­eas.

Fi­nan­cial hard­ship was con­sid­ered top of the list in terms of stres­sors, Dr Ja­cobs said.

He noted the lack of sup­port for ru­ral peo­ple with fi­nan­cial hard­ship, cit­ing the fact only five WA drought af­fected farm­ers met cri­te­ria in terms of ap­ply­ing for State Gov­ern­ment con­ces­sional loans be­fore ap­pli­ca­tions closed last year.

Com­mit­tee mem­ber Cathie Kelly said with the cur­rent good sea­son, it may ap­pear to out­siders that fi­nan­cial hard­ship was now un­likely.

How­ever, fore­cast lower grain prices could mean farm­ers would still meet dif­fi­culty de­spite good yields.

She said just one or two poor sea­sons in the near fu­ture could also cre­ate fur­ther fi­nan­cial dif­fi­culty.

Mrs Kelly added that be­cause of the cur­rent good sea­son, there was an ap­petite from some farm­ers to buy ad­di­tional land.

She said banks were aware of this ap­petite so were in­creas­ing pres­sure on those in fi­nan­cial diff- iculty. Rais­ing in­ter­est rates put farm­ers in un­ten­able po­si­tions, ren­der­ing farm­ers in­ca­pable of re­pay­ing debt.

As part of the WIG group’s re­mit to “free farm­ers from the slav­ery of debt”, there is a fo­cus on bi­o­log­i­cal farm­ing, and the group has been es­tab­lished to share in­for­ma­tion and ideas.

Mr Kelly and his wife Lucy, who farm with Nick’s par­ents Mal­colm and Cathie, have them­selves adopted bi­o­log­i­cal farm­ing prac­tices.

Mr Kelly said af­ter a tran­si­tion pe­riod, their prop­erty is now in its third year of be­ing phos­phate free.

Next year, the cur­rent small ni­tro­gen ap­pli­ca­tion will be re­duced to zero.

Nonethe­less, due to re­sul­tant im­prove­ments in the health of the soil be­cause of sev­eral bi­o­log­i­cal farm­ing mea­sures, Mr Kelly ex­pects even without a fer­tiliser ap­pli­ca­tion their yields will match the dis­trict av­er­age next year.

A bi­o­log­i­cal farm­ing field day will be held on the Kellys’ prop­erty at Newde­gate on Oc­to­ber 5.

If you or some­one you know is think­ing of sui­cide, phone Life­line on 13 11 14.

Clock­wise from back left: Dr Gra­ham Ja­cobs MLA, Mal­colm Kelly, Ni­cholas Kelly, Ken Bai­ley, Andy Reynolds, Lucy Kelly, Cathie Kelly and John Grullis, at Par­lia­ment House be­fore the Wheat­belt In­tegrity Group meet­ing last week.

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