15 December, 2017

Westpac NZ offers relief to farmers affected by drought-like conditions

Westpac is offering to assist its hardest hit customers, as drought-like conditions grip large parts of the country.

Westpac’s Head of Commercial and Agribusiness, Mark Steed said the impact of a severe weather event can be stressful for those affected, particularly in the dairy sector in recovery from the payout slump in 2015/16.

He said the bank is offering financial assistance and is encouraging farmers experiencing hardship to talk to Westpac about how the bank can help them.

“We’re able to assess their needs on a case by case basis and make a decision on the spot, helping to relieve the stress a bit.

“In saying that, farm cash flows have been very good across most sectors and so most balance sheets are in a reasonable position. So we’re suggesting that some affected farmers may wish to talk to us about suspending their loan principal payments for a period, as a good cash buffer is helpful in these periods. There may also be other things we can do,” Mr Steed said.

Westpac has previously offered similar relief to customers affected by natural disasters, including flooding and earthquakes.

Although the Ministry of Primary Industries has not declared an official drought, some farmers in the regions are feeling the pinch brought on by the dry weather.

“We’re conscious that some areas of the country are experiencing drier conditions than normal for this time of the year. Areas such as Southland and the West Coast are particularly affected, despite receiving some rain in the last couple of days; and in the North, coastal Hawkes Bay, Wairarapa, Manawatu/Wanganui and parts of Taranaki are very dry for this time of year,” Mr Steed said.

In some areas, farmers were already experiencing feed shortfalls and having to sell off livestock and store market prices have dropped as a result, he said.

Westpac is talking to farmers about the risks, their options, decision-making and ensuring that farmers are looking at what outside advice and support they can obtain, such as from Rural Support Trusts, Federated Farmers and their professional advisors.

“We are acutely aware that at times like this farmers will come under stress and mental health issues can arise. Depression is a common medical condition and farmers should not feel they are on their own at this time – support is available to everyone,” Mr Steed said.

Westpac is currently assessing how it can help rural communities if conditions do not improve in the medium term.