AFTER an anxious two month wait, primary producers affected by severe hail storms on the Coffs Coast in September can now access disaster relief funds.
The Coffs Harbour and Clarence Valley local government areas have this week been declared as agricultural natural disaster zones, triggering access to low-interest loans and other assistance.
It's welcome news for Oz Group Co-op chairman Gurmesh Singh who said the damage bill from the storms was estimated at around $30 million.
"In the Coffs Harbour area growers can't access insurance against hail - it's too high risk and no insurance company will cover it," Mr Singh said.
"The damage caused was mentally and physically draining for growers so when you're at the mercy of mother nature any assistance from the government helps."
The relief package comes in the form of loans of up to $130,000, at 1.38% interest per annum, with a two year interest and repayment-free period.
The loans provide for replacement or repairs to property and on-farm infrastructure affected by the storms.
Despite the damage, Mr Singh said production from this year's picking season remained steady with 2014.
"This season should have been up by around 30% on last year because of more planting, but we still produced, as a whole, what we produced at this time last year," he said.
Mr Singh said growers in the co-operative were now assessing options to limit the impact from future storms.
"There has been talk about hail risk aversion measures, but the biggest thing we can do is diversify our season so it's not concentrated in the September to November months," he said.
"To do that we're looking at newer varieties, different growing techniques and different ways of pruning which can bring the fruit on at a different time."
For more information or to apply contact the Rural Assistance Authority on 1800 678 593 or raa.nsw.gov.au.