Federal Budget 2019: What's it in for farmers and rural, regional Australia?

Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud.
Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud.

An array of bits and bobs have been squirrelled away for regional communities and industries in the federal budget, with the wide range of new initiatives taking the place of headline grabbing announcements.

Today's winner is regional road safety, with $100 billion committed over 10 years.

Meanwhile, there's boutique funding for a smattering of targeted initiatives such as weather stations in NSW and Queensland, a national drought map, farm sector workforce research, industry leadership, beef promotion, and the Farm Household Allowance.

What was announced?

The Regional Airports Program will provide $100m over the four years to 2022-23 to provide assistance to the owners of regional airports to undertake essential works, promote safety and access for communities.

The budget revealed $24.1m to reform the Harvest Labour Services Scheme to encourage Australian workers to fill persistent vacancies in manual farm labouring.

It also committed to invest $1.9m over four years, to develop a new National Agricultural Workforce Strategy.

The Beef Australia event, held every three years in Rockhampton, received additional funding to the tune of $3.9m over three years.

The budget includes new funding for the Farm Household Allowance, to exempt livestock producers from the scheme's income cap limit if they are forced destock. $3.1m has been allocated to the initiative, but expenditure could exceed this estimate as the scheme is uncapped.

There is a further $200m to extend the existing Building Better Regions Fund, which sources private and public funding for local development projects, into a fourth round.

The government is funding $77.2m over 23 years from 2019-20 to improve radar coverage in regional Queensland and northern NSW.

Maxwelton, Oakey, Taroom and between Charters Towers and Hughenden will get new radars, while the Moree radar will be relocated to Boggabilla. Rain gauges will be installed in the Burdekin and Flinders regions.

There will be $15.4m for a new radar at Tennant Creek which is part of the Barkly Regional Deal with an additional co-contribution of $2.5m from the NT government.

There will be $4.2m over four years from 2019-20 to maintain a National Drought Map. The map is an online resource which brings together information on drought conditions and support measures available across multiple agencies and tiers of government.

National leadership for agricultural innovation will get a $2.9m boost over three years, starting in 2019-20, to establish an advisory panel to do a range of tasks including cross-commodity research and development and supporting long-term jobs in the agricultural sector.

What has been announced already?

The budget papers show the how funding will be rolled out under the federal government's $8.7m, 11-year commitment to the mandatory Dairy Code of Conduct, which regulates producers relationships with milk processors.

Starting with a $100,000 spend next year, the federal budget plans to invest $2.1m to develop the Code by the end of financial year 2022-23.

The government has already announced that North Queensland flood-affected farmers will get relief in the form of $300 million in grants to help re-build damaged farm infrastructure, replace livestock and replant crops.

It is also working with banks to provide up to $1.8billion of low-cost loads to support banks offering lower interest rates to eligible flood-affected primary producers.

The government announced last year it would spend $3.9 billion on the Future Drought Fund, which will invest $100m each year in water infrastructure and drought preparation.

There were no additional pre-election dam announcements in the budget. The federal government has already made a $3.3b commitment to the National Water Infrastructure Fund in recent years, including a $750m injection earlier this year for work on North Queensland initiatives.

The federal government dug deep before budget day to fund North Queensland flood affected farmers, which cynics would note include some marginal seats, with $3.3 billion set aside to rebuild infrastructure and for recovery loans, as well as a reallocation of $3.9b for the Future Drought Fund, and funding for rural mental health.

Also already announced is $34 million for an environmental stewardship fund, $220m for mobile blackspots and regional telecommunications and $29m to promote agricultural trade.

Earlier this year the federal government pushed backed against industry demands for an ag visa, to increase the flow of migrant workers for fruit picking and other horticultural labour jobs, opting instead to expand intake under the Season Worker and Pacific Islander Labour schemes.