Farmers demand industry benefits from RFC sale

THE state government will reap a $460 million windfall from the sale of Rural Finance Corporation to the Bendigo Bank in a $1.8 billion deal announced yesterday.

And farmers want the money to come back to agriculture. The Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) has called for the money to go towards helping young people into the industry.

“We want an iron-clad guarantee that the $460 million goes into recruiting and assisting the next generation of food and fibre producers,” VFF chief executive Graeme Ford said. 

The proposal has met with some approval from district farmers. Crossley dairy farmer Karingeet Singh-Mahil said she was all for the idea.

“This is money the government has earned from financing agriculture so it seems reasonable that it be put back into the industry. It should not go to building the East-West link,” she said.

“Helping young people in some way would seem to be the most sensible thing to do with the money.”

Ms Singh-Mahil said she was disappointed to hear of the sale.

“I’m concerned that we are losing a bank dedicated solely to farm finance. The worry is that future managers might not have the very specific knowledge needed for managing farm finance,” Ms Singh-Mahil said.

While concerned about the sale, Ms Singh-Mahil said she was relieved that Rural Finance was not sold to one of the major banks. 

“If it had gone to one of the major banks I would have had a real problem with it. At least with Bendigo there’s a little bit of concern for community good.”

Winslow dairy farmer and Farmer Power vice-president Jock O’Keefe also supported the VFF’s proposal.

“Assisting young people into farming in some way would be a sensible way to use the money. The government earned this money from the farming sector and helping young people into the industry would be a sensible way to use it,” he said.

Not everyone was sorry to see Rural Finance sold off.

Terang dairy farmer Bryan Dickson said the corporation had been “irrelevant” since he came into farming in 1990.

“They were important in the 70s and 80s and helped farmers a lot after the fires, but since I have been farming they haven’t done anything that the main banks haven’t done.

“I think it’s better off in private hands,” Mr Dickson said.

The VFF is calling on the government to use the $460 million to reinstate the first farm grant, increase the budget available for the Young Farmer Finance Scheme, maintain the Young Agribusiness Professionals program and expanding the Agricultural Careers Officer program.

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