Cooper Grace Ward Lawyers has warned its agribusiness clients about legal, tax and business pitfalls that can arise during drought periods.
Australian law states that farmers have a legal obligation to protect the welfare of livestock on their property, but one of the biggest issues the firm is hearing from its clients, is that water and feed resources are running critically low and that caring for livestock is becoming difficult.
These circumstances can result in farmers inadvertently falling into several legal and business traps.
Firstly, moving livestock interstate and to other locations to access feed and water can trigger biosecurity issues. This can result in fines and other penalties, but another risk is that it can prevent livestock being sold in high value domestic and export markets.
Secondly, many farmers are unaware that if they make the decision to entirely de-stock a property or cease carrying out agribusiness activities during the drought this may affect any tax exemptions or concessions which may have otherwise applied.
In addition to stock resourcing issues, vegetation clearing for fodder and routine property management contain a number of pitfalls as currently the laws regarding vegetation clearing are uncertain and being considered by the Court of Appeal. Before undertaking any vegetation clearing we recommend that specific advice be obtained.
Finally, landowners need to ensure that they continue to discharge their bush fire management as drought conditions brings a higher probability of dangerous bush fires sparking in dead vegetation.
Leanne O’Neill, Special Counsel at Cooper Grace Ward, says many farmers are unaware of their legal obligations in a drought, or feel that under the added strain, the normal rules might not apply – and they certainly do. “With the current drought predicted to remain severe, we are advising our agricultural clients to remember all legal obligations that must be followed or risk heavy penalties and fines.”
The current drought is one of the worst in over 100 years and is affecting most parts of the country with close to 100% of New South Wales now declared drought-affected.
The effects of drought are numerous, and many farmers will face significant problems including lack of natural water, reduced animal feed, poor crop yield, malnourished animals and reduced income.
The firm also recommends struggling farmers investigate financial assistance from the government rather than waiting for the current drought to pass.
Cooper Grace Ward is currently raising funds for Buy A Bale to provide much needed support to drought-stricken farmers and communities.