A year of patchy and disappointing seasonal conditions in many parts of Australia is having surprisingly little impact on farmers spending habits, as banks report surging investment in equipment, infrastructure and property.
Farm management deposits and other savings accounts continue to attract funds, too, although dry conditions are set to see more farmers tapping their FMD reserves if good rain does not fall soon.
Westpac has just recorded its biggest quarter for farm sector equipment finance lending since the global financial crisis in 2009.
“Equipment finance activity in the six months to March was up at least 30 per cent on the same period last year,” said agribusiness general manager Steve Hannan.
Grain growing and harvesting machinery was a notable part of that equipment spend, as was improved grain and fodder storage infrastructure on cropping and grazing holdings.
It comes down to a generally good level of confidence across the industry, despite the difficult and varied seasons
Steve Hannan, Westpac
“The trend is fairly much Australia-wide,” Mr Hannan said.
“I think it comes down to a generally good level of confidence across the industry, despite the difficult and varied cropping season in different regions last year and current dry conditions in much of eastern Australia.”
He said farmers were using improved cash flow from meat, wool, and horticulture markets to upgrade gear while they could, bolstering their farms resilience in preparation for potentially tougher times ahead.
Apart from spending on better infrastructure and plant, farmers stashed away a record $6 billion in FMDs at the end of last financial year.
About $5.1b was still in FMDs at the end of March.
Beef and horticulture producers made substantial increases in their savings in 2016-17, with beef-only producers holding about $800m in FMDs last June – up from about 680m a year earlier.
FMDs still growing
National Australia Banks agribusiness general manage, Khan Horne, tipped farm earnings trends were still strong enough to drive FMDs to another end of financial year high this June – probably above $7b.
National Australia Bank's agribusiness general manager, Khan Horne.
“Reserves are being drawn on in some drier areas, particularly Queensland, but nationally theres quite a lot going into savings accounts (not just FMDs), as well as strong spending on new capital initiatives,” he said.
He estimated NAB agribusiness customers currently held a sizeable $12b in various cash reserves.
Mr Horne also noted more farmers opting to make less conventional capital equipment purchases, such as stock yards and solar panels, using asset finance (lease to buy) arrangements over four or five years.
“Equipment finance isnt just about tractors, headers or utes – farmers even opt for multi-item leases which might include a quad bike and yards in one package.”
Westpacs Mr Hannan said despite generally poor cropping and declining grazing conditions since January, there had been sufficient resilience to drive surprisingly robust grain sector capital investment strategies and even underpin considerable dry sowing activity in parts of eastern Australia.
“We know farmers overall are fairly resilient operators, but as seen in Queensland and parts of NSW in the past few years, the ag industry is getting very good at hanging in there and making the most of things despite continuing weather challenges,” he said.
Weve also seen more farmers increasing repayments on borrowings.
Alexandra Gartmann, Rural Bank
The grain sectors strong spending has slightly surprised Rural Bank managing director, Alexandra Gartmann, but she, too, noted investment confidence was “solid” across the whole farm scene.
Rural Bank managing director, Alexandra Gartmann, talks farm lending trends with Elders' northern zone agri-finance manager, Mark Pain, St George, Queensland.
“Demand for finance in the West Australian grain belt is not as active, but overall its about the same as last year,” she said.
“Weve also seen more farmers increasing repayments on borrowings.”
She felt recent grain sector spending was partly explained by the big 2016-17 season, which prompted investment considerations which may have only come to fruition in the past six months or so.
Low interest rates, dollar
“Interest rates are also very low, which is an incentive producers want to take advantage of while they still can.”
Ms Gartmann said big earnings gains for wool growers in the past two years had prompted them to spend on new gear, sheds and other infrastructure.
Property transaction activity was also strong across all sectors, with more demand than available land for sale.
Also helping farmer confidence is the Australian dollars downward moves in the past month.
“Anywhere in the lower end of the US70 cent range is a good number,” said Mr Hannan.
While the lingering big dry made many in agribusiness uneasy about the sectors ability to properly cash in on bullish food commodity demand, Westpac expected a helpful dip in the Australian exchange rate to as low as US72c by years end.
“Our chief economist, Bill Evans, is talking about a range between US76c and US72c – thats a kind number for exporters like farmers to work with.”
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Sydney seaplane crash: Exhaust fumes affected pilot, report confirms
The pilot of a seaplane that crashed into an Australian river, killing all on board, had been left confused and disorientated by leaking exhaust fumes, investigators have confirmed.
The Canadian pilot and five members of a British family died in the crash north of Sydney in December 2017.
All were found to have higher than normal levels of carbon monoxide in their blood, a final report has found.
It recommended the mandatory fitting of gas detectors in all such planes.
British businessman Richard Cousins, 58, died alongside his 48-year-old fiancée, magazine editor Emma Bowden, her 11-year-old daughter Heather and his sons, Edward, 23, and William, 25, and pilot Gareth Morgan, 44. Mr Cousins was the chief executive of catering giant Compass.
The family had been on a sightseeing flight in the de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver plane when it nose-dived into the Hawkesbury River at Jerusalem Bay, about 50km (30 miles) from the city centre.
The final report by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) confirmed the findings of an interim report published in 2020.
It said pre-existing cracks in the exhaust collector ring were believed to have released exhaust gas into the engine bay. Holes left by missing bolts in a firewall then allowed the fumes to enter the cabin.
“As a result, the pilot would have almost certainly experienced effects such as confusion, visual disturbance and disorientation,” the report said.
“Consequently, it was likely that this significantly degraded the pilot’s ability to safely operate the aircraft.”
The ATSB recommended the Civil Aviation Safety Authority consider mandating the fitting of carbon monoxide detectors in piston-engine aircraft that carry passengers.
It previously issued safety advisory notices to owners and operators of such aircraft that they install detectors “with an active warning” to pilots”. Operators and maintainers of planes were also advised to carry out detailed inspections of exhaust systems and firewalls.
Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-55862128
Australia unlikely to fully reopen border in 2021, says top official
Australia is unlikely to fully open its borders in 2021 even if most of its population gets vaccinated this year as planned, says a senior health official.
The comments dampen hopes raised by airlines that travel to and from the country could resume as early as July.
Department of Health Secretary Brendan Murphy made the prediction after being asked about the coronavirus’ escalation in other nations.
Dr Murphy spearheaded Australia’s early action to close its borders last March.
“I think that we’ll go most of this year with still substantial border restrictions,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Monday.
“Even if we have a lot of the population vaccinated, we don’t know whether that will prevent transmission of the virus,” he said, adding that he believed quarantine requirements for travellers would continue “for some time”.
Citizens, permanent residents and those with exemptions are allowed to enter Australia if they complete a 14-day hotel quarantine at their own expense.
Qantas – Australia’s national carrier – reopened bookings earlier this month, after saying it expected international travel to “begin to restart from July 2021.”
However, it added this depended on the Australian government’s deciding to reopen borders.
Australia’s tight restrictions
The country opened a travel bubble with neighbouring New Zealand late last year, but currently it only operates one-way with inbound flights to Australia.
Australia has also discussed the option of travel bubbles with other low-risk places such as Taiwan, Japan and Singapore.
A vaccination scheme is due to begin in Australia in late February. Local authorities have resisted calls to speed up the process, giving more time for regulatory approvals.
Australia has so far reported 909 deaths and about 22,000 cases, far fewer than many nations. It reported zero locally transmitted infections on Monday.
Experts have attributed much of Australia’s success to its swift border lockdown – which affected travellers from China as early as February – and a hotel quarantine system for people entering the country.
Local outbreaks have been caused by hotel quarantine breaches, including a second wave in Melbourne. The city’s residents endured a stringent four-month lockdown last year to successfully suppress the virus.
Other outbreaks – including one in Sydney which has infected about 200 people – prompted internal border closures between states, and other restrictions around Christmas time.
The state of Victoria said on Monday it would again allow entry to Sydney residents outside of designated “hotspots”, following a decline in cases.
While the measures have been praised, many have also criticised them for separating families across state borders and damaging businesses.
Dr Murphy said overall Australia’s virus response had been “pretty good” but he believed the nation could have introduced face masks earlier and improved its protections in aged care homes.
In recent days, Australia has granted entry to about 1,200 tennis players, staff and officials for the Australian Open. The contingent – which has recorded at least nine infections – is under quarantine.
Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-55699581
Covid: Brisbane to enter three-day lockdown over single infection
The Australian city of Brisbane has begun a snap three-day lockdown after a cleaner in its hotel quarantine system became infected with coronavirus.
Health officials said the cleaner had the highly transmissible UK variant and they were afraid it could spread.
Brisbane has seen very few cases of the virus beyond quarantined travellers since Australia’s first wave last year.
It is the first known instance of this variant entering the Australian community outside of hotel quarantine.
The lockdown is for five populous council areas in Queensland’s state capital.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced the measure on Friday morning local time, about 16 hours after the woman tested positive.
Ms Palaszczuk said the lockdown aimed to halt the virus as rapidly as possible, adding: “Doing three days now could avoid doing 30 days in the future.”
“I think everybody in Queensland… knows what we are seeing in the UK and other places around the world is high rates of infection from this particular strain,” she said.
“And we do not want to see that happening here in our great state.”
Australia has reported 28,500 coronavirus infections and 909 deaths since the pandemic began. By contrast, the US, which is the hardest-hit country, has recorded more than 21 million infections while nearly 362,000 people have died of the disease.The lockdown will begin at 18:00 on Friday (08:00 GMT) in the Brisbane city, Logan and the Ipswich, Moreton and Redlands local government areas.
Residents will only be allowed to leave home for certain reasons, such as buying essential items and seeking medical care.
For the first time, residents in those areas will also be required to wear masks outside of their homes.
Australia has faced sporadic outbreaks over the past year, with the most severe one in Melbourne triggering a lockdown for almost four months.
A pre-Christmas outbreak in Sydney caused fresh alarm, but aggressive testing and contact-tracing has kept infection numbers low. The city recorded four local cases on Friday.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government has pledged to start mass vaccinations in February instead of March as was planned.
Lockdown interrupts ‘near normal’ life in Brisbane
Simon Atkinson, BBC News in Brisbane
At 8:00 today I popped to the local supermarket for some bread, milk – and because it’s summer here – a mango. I was pretty much the only customer.
When I went past the same shop a couple of hours later it was a different story – 50 people standing in the drizzle – queuing to get inside as others emerged with bulging shopping bags. “Heaps busier than Christmas,” a cheery trolley attendant told me. “It’s off the scale”.
Despite the “don’t panic” messages from authorities, pictures on social media show it’s a pattern being repeated across the city.
While shutdowns are common around the world, the tough and sudden stay-at-home order for Brisbane has caught people on the hop here after months of near normality.
But while such a rapid, hard lockdown off the back of just a single case of Covid-19 will seem crazy in some parts of the world, I’ve not come across too many people complaining.
And I don’t think that’s just because Aussies love to follow a rule. This is the first time the UK variant of the virus has been detected in the community in Australia.
And nobody here wants Brisbane to go through what Melbourne suffered last year. Even if it means going without mangoes.
Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-55582836
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