Farm Business Debt Mediation Scheme Queensland

      By Renee Lovelady Tomas

      Sugarcane is one of our largest and most vital rural industries. In fact, sugarcane is Queensland’s largest agricultural crop allowing our farmers to produce up to 4.5 million tonnes of raw sugar, 1 million tonnes of molasses and 10 million tonnes of bagasse annually (Australian Sugar Milling Council). Our warm tropical temperatures are ideal for growing and producing sugar. We are proud of our farmers and commend them for their long-standing commitment to our States agricultural industry.

      Our farmers can encounter financial problems when the industry is impacted by drought, natural disasters, disease, government mandates and regulations – the list goes on. It is important for our farmers to be aware that assistance is available to them under the Farm Debt Mediation Scheme (FDMS) when impacted by these challenges . The FDMS provides farmers have the ability to negotiate with their bank or enter into a heads of agreement with their bankers about the management of the debt before the bank can commence debt recovering proceedings including taking possession of the property .  

      The  Farm Business Debt Mediation Scheme,  which is now mandatory for the banks to apply, is administered under the Farm Business Debt Mediation Act 2017 (Qld)  and stops the banks from taking any enforcement action under their security without first entering into a mediation process (unless they have obtained an exemption certificate).

      The purpose of the Farm Business Debt Mediation Act 2017 (Qld) is to provide an efficient and equitable way for farmers and banks to resolve matters relating to farm business debts. This is to be achieved by:-

      • Providing for mediation as a way for farmers and banks, participating in good faith, to efficiently and equitably resolve matters relating to farm business debts; and
      • Require the bank, before taking action to enforce a mortgage securing the debt:
        • To offer mediation for the debt to the farmer; and
        • If the farmer asks for the mediation – to take part in the mediation in good faith.

      The Queensland Rural and Industry Development Authority (QRIDA formally QRAA) are responsible for administering the mediation process.

      The QRIDA completed a rural debt survey over the course of 1994 to 2011. The results of the 2011 Rural Debt survey provide:

      • total debt increased $2.67 billion or 19% to $16.97 billion on the previous survey conducted December 2009
      • average debt per borrower increased by $152,000 to just over $1 million per borrower.
      • five industries account for more than 80% of total recorded rural debt, these being beef (54% of total debt), cotton (7.6%), grain/grazing (6.8%), grain (6.5%) and sugar (5.7%)
      • more specifically, the level of rural debt for the beef industry has increased by $1.3 billion (17%) over the past two years to a total of $9.18 billion; and
      • the Survey found that 86 per cent of the total debt was classified as ”A“ (borrowers who are considered viable under most or all circumstances) or ”B+“ (potentially viable long-term but are experiencing debt servicing difficulties) rated debt.

      Under the new Act, the QRIDA will be required to undertake a rural debt survey for the period from January, 2012 to December, 2017.

      Farmers who find themselves in a situation where they are required to attend the mediation need not attend the mediation alone. Farmers are allowed to have a legal representative attend the mediation with them and your lawyer can also provide assistance with:-

      • fully prepare you for the mediation;
      • assist and advise you on any settlement options;
      • assist the mediation with drafting the terms of any settlement reached.

      If you require further advice on this issue or any other rural legal issues please contact our Property Law team on 4771 5664 or leave an enquiry below. 

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      QLD, 4810