Calls for grower-funded disaster assistance pool, amid criticism from cyclone-hit farmers | Ralph-Lauren

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A North Queensland farmer is calling for a national approach to self-funded natural disaster assistance, after waiting two months for aid when his banana crop was wiped out.

Innisfail district grower Ned Di Salvo watched months of work destroyed in a few short hours on March 1, when a system that later became Cyclone Niran unleashed winds of more than 100 kph, smashing farms south of Cairns.

The grower estimates he lost hundreds of thousands of dollars of fruit to the cyclonic winds. 

Controversially, there was no warning from the Bureau of Meteorology while the Townsville radar remained offline.

But after waiting until April 30 for Queensland and Australian government grants of $75,000 to be offered, Mr Di Salvo said a better option was needed.

‘It’s been a real struggle’

“This is my fifth major wipe-out — I think the government was more forthcoming in all other major cyclones compared to this one,” he said.

With his entire crop wiped out, the Boogan farmer said the labour-intensive clean-up was only half complete, with irrigation repairs still required and no cash flow likely until October.

bunch of bananas on tree in paddock
The few surviving bunches in Mr Di Salvo’s paddock are not worth picking due to high labour costs.(

ABC Rural: Tom Major

)

After experiencing such frustration in the wake of Niran, Mr Di Salvo is proposing a levy system for horticulture in Australia to insure against future disasters and bureaucratic delays.

“Whether it be here, Mareeba, down in Victoria, around Australia there could be a pool of money always available for growers to come back after natural disasters,” he said.

WA model an option

In the 1960s, Carnarvon in Western Australia was hit by natural disasters, leading the state government to establish a trust fund with the industry to provide compensation in the event of a 15 per cent or greater loss.

Sweeter Banana Co-Operative CEO Doriana Mangili said the voluntary system worked as a self-funded insurance program, and was premium-free for members.

“We calculate the production of the farm, measured twice annually, the hectares you have in, the tonnes per hectare times the amount of damage and there’s a payout based on that formula,” she said.

With a crop taking up to 18 months to recover in cooler Western Australia, the compensation was greatly appreciated by growers last year when ex-Tropical Cyclone Mangga caused 15 to 20 per cent losses in the region.

woman in banana paddock with bananas
Sweeter Banana Co-Operative CEO Doriana Mangili.(

Supplied: Sweeter Banana Co-Operative

)

Ms Mangili said the model should be considered nationally with predictions of increased climate risks for farmers.

The widening geographical spread of the industry increased the potential sustainability of such a fund in the face of regional wipeouts, she said.

The federal government recently announced a reinsurance pool for northern Australia in the face of perceived market failure and sky-high insurance premiums for the tropics.

With advocates maintaining a similar issue exists for agricultural industries, governments are being urged to consider extending similar help.

“There probably is a role … when private insurance is impossible, for government to step in and help – and for growers to help themselves by agreeing to support it as well,” Ms Mangili said.



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