Australia commits nearly $300 mln to help drought-hit farmers

SYDNEY Tue Feb 25, 2014 7:36pm EST

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SYDNEY Feb 26 (Reuters) - The Australian government will provide a A$320 million ($289 million) assistance package to help farmers ravaged by prolonged drought across the east coast, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Wednesday.

The Australian federal government will make around A$280 million available in drought concession loans to give eligible farm businesses the resources to recover from the effects of the drought.

Farmers in New South Wales and Queensland will also have access to extended emergency water infrastructure scheme, to which the government committed a further A$12 million dollars.

The package also includes about A$10 million for pest management in drought-affected areas and around A$11 million to help increase access to social and mental health services in communities affected by this drought, the government said.

With a scorching drought withering pastures, farmers in Queensland state - home to half of Australia's 28 million strong livestock herd have been forced to cull cattle at a record rate, while the unfavourable weather has also curbed summer crop production.

($1 = 1.1078 Australian dollars) (Editing by Miral Fahmy)

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