Sun. May 26th, 2024

Gwydir Shire farmer, and chair of the NSW Farmers Young Farmer Council, Martin Murray has called out the unfairness of only 11 local government areas (LGAs) being included in the eligibility criteria for the recently announced Farms of the Future program.

Farms of the Future is a part of the New South Wales Government’s $400 million Regional Digital Connectivity program, funded through the $4.2 billion Snowy Hydro Legacy Fund established in 2018. The aim of the program is to to encourage producers to adopt Agtech to assist them to boost productivity, increase their market competitiveness and improve sustainable use of resources in the agricultural sector, which includes water efficiency, drought preparedness and increasing resilience to climate change. It is not clear why, after an initial pilot of the program in 2020, and an expanded pilot in 2021, the program is still restricted to ‘target areas’.

“The thing that really annoys me about these Farms of the Future grants is not that they exist… but they’ve done it in an extremely discriminatory manner,” Mr Murray said.

“We would love to improve our farming standards but simply don’t have the money.”

“I’m not running nice new gear here; I’ve got a Chinese GPS strapped to an old Case that’s older than me, pulling a rock picker that’s also probably older than me.”

“These ag tech grants are great, I would love to get on board with them and get some of that gear.”

“Then I find out that, for whatever reason, I’m in the wrong shire and can’t get access to those grants,” Mr Murray said.

“I think we should open it up to the whole state and assess it on the merit of the business case, rather than the LGA.”

Member for Northern Tablelands, Adam Marshall, agreed with Mr Murray, and says he has queried the decision to limit the grants to 11 LGA’s with the Minister.

“Every farmer should be able to access the grants regardless of where they live,” Mr Marshall said.

The grants, announced on February 3, will provide up to $35,000 to eligible farm businesses to purchase the latest Agtech equipment and connectivity solutions. However, the grants are not straight forward, with a lot of bureaucracy to navigate for the relatively small amounts of money.

To be eligible, your farm must be in the Armidale, Moree, Narrabri, Carrathool, Griffith, Leeton, Orange, Cabonne, Ballina, Byron, or Lismore local government areas. You also have to complete a Farms of the Future Training Program and received a Certificate of Completion, and have a turnover above $40,000 a year from primary production.

Once you jump those hurdles, you can only use the grants to purchase ‘approved’ connectivity solutions and digital Agtech devices, chosen from the Agtech Catalogue website of pre-specified Agtech suppliers, and only for one of the four stipulated use cases.

And then, once you’ve met all of those requirements and have your new pre-approved tech from pre-specified suppliers, you need to share all your data you gather with your new devices with the NSW Department of Primary Industries.

“The $20 million Farms of the Future grant program initially targets five agricultural regions, spanning 11 LGAs and is an expansion of a very small pilot that was initially run in Blayney, Coonamble and Narromine,” a department spokesperson said.

“The regions were selected following close consultation with industry.”

For those who are in the targeted regions and meet all the criteria, applications for the grants close August 31. Find out more here https://www.nsw.gov.au/grants-and-funding/farms-of-future-grant-program

Have something to say about this story? Submit your own opinion piece, or quick word, to The Net.