DEVASTATED Queensland growers have challenged the state and federal governments to extend flood relief.While grower groups have welcomed the flood relief assistance announced by the governments for worst affected areas of Bundaberg, North Burnett, Fraser Coast, Gympie and Lockyer Valley, other hard-hit areas such as Sunshine Coast, Albert, Fassifern Valley and Logan are still waiting for help.
Today, the federal and state governments granted assistance to horticultural growers and farmers in nine more areas - the South Burnett, Gladstone and Scenic Rim and parts of Banana, Goondiwindi, Ipswich, Somerset, Southern Downs and Toowoomba – but Queensland horticulture body Growcom said more areas needed help.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard last week announced clean-up and recovery grants of up to $25,000 and concessional loans of up to $250,000 were immediately available to farmers.
The Queensland Government said flood assistance may be extended to other shires as further information about flood impacts emerged.
Queensland Premier Campbell Newman said the economic impact of the recent floods would not be as bad as after those in 2010-11.
Growcom chief executive Alex Livingstone said farms in areas such as Fassifern Valley had lost about half their topsoil.
"To rebuild the soil it costs farmers about $40,000 per hectare per annum,'' Mr Livingstone said.
"If 50ha is washed out, that's $2 million a year for three or four years.
"Of these, 65 per cent of farms were severely affected and 35 per cent moderately - with the average damage bill sitting at $365,000,'' he said.
Lost production in the key growing areas would drive up produce prices nationally and prompt an increase of imported produce, Mr Livingstone said.
He estimated farm damage to be in excess of $100 million and rising.
"Loans of up to $250,000 are available at a concessional interest rate, but this compounds if the growers were affected in 2010,'' Mr Livingstone said.
"Most would have a two-year 'holiday period' for repayment and would only be starting to pay that first loan back now.
"After this, many growers may end up with another loan, bringing them to $500,000 debt, and much more money needed for recovery.
"There is only a certain amount of debt producers can handle and they're already pretty much at their limit,'' he said.
Fassifern Valley vegetable grower Robert Hinrichsen had his whole 200ha Kalbar farm damaged by the floods.
He part-owns Queensland's biggest carrot producer, Kalfresh, but as much as a third of his farm may be unusable for up to four years.
"There is one third that can recover, one third that has pretty major damage but can be rehabilitated by retrieving topsoil from drains, and the last third has been catastrophically destroyed,'' Mr Hinrichsen said.
"I'll have to turn sub-soil into topsoil, which is something we've never had to do.
"We were affected in 2010, but this flood is 100 times worse.''
But despite the extensive damage, his area has not be declared eligible for any government assistance.
"Last time we received assistance, but this time we have been denied for some reason,'' he said.
"We took $25,000 of relief in 2010, which paid for all the earth works and reinstating levee banks, but we were still out of pocket $200,000.
"This time it will be more like $400,000.
"I think the Government is stalling on this area because it hasn't had many houses affected.''
Regional Australia Minister Simon Crean said the Federal Government would continue to work with the Queensland Government to deliver emergency relief.
"Joint Commonwealth/Queensland Government payments and grants for individuals, small businesses and primary producers are available through the Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements,'' he said.
"The Central Highlands Regional Council will receive an early payment of more than $1.8 million, which will assist to rebuild Emerald after the devastation,'' he said.
"The Bundaberg Council will receive more than $1.4 million to assist in the rebuilding process.''
Growcom is also also urging the governments to consider funding Category D assistance.
"Growcom is pleased that governments are listening to industry bodies and are taking seriously the detailed supporting data we have provided to justify Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements (NDRRA) support," Mr Livingstone said.
"However, wage subsidies are urgently needed to pay farm labour in the face of weeks and months ahead of storm clean-up without farm income.
"While the State Government has re-employed 12 DAFF staff as flood liaison officers we also urge it to consider funds for Industry Recovery Officers (IROs) in each industry sector."