Farm advocate group seeks new members
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 www.wig.farm/.
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.