A Murchison pastoralist who reached out for help through a Federal drought loan scheme has spoken out about the “bureaucratic nightmare” she found herself tangled in for 16 months. Gemma Cripps was feeling hopeful when she saw applications were open for the Regional Investment Corporation’s Farm Investment Loans early last year. The Federal Government-funded RIC has been spruiked for its “easy-to-access”, low-interest loans to help farmers “get through tough times”. Ms Cripps said the process of applying for and — after 16 months — finally receiving the loan money had been anything but easy. Instead, the “tedious and disappointing” process caused her significant stress at a time she and her parents needed help to get back on their feet after wild dogs decimated their sheep flock and caused them to transition into cattle. Ms Cripps and her parents Helen and Mike have called Gabyon Station home since 2009, running sheep and recently cattle across 271,500ha west of Yalgoo. Things on the land had been tough at Gabyon since the temporary collapse of the live sheep trade in 2011 threw their business into chaos. At the time, they were running a commercial flock for the live sheep export trade at the station and a 20,000 head, accredited live export quarantine facility at Walkaway for Livestock Shipping Services. The 2011 live export ban meant their business “stopped overnight”, and saw the family open their station to tourists in 2013 to generate new income. The Cripps have since turned to producing Damara and Dorper lambs for the domestic market but have faced huge problems in recent years as wild dogs savaged their 6000 head sheep flock, forcing them to cut their numbers back. Turning their hand to cattle this year, the Cripps now run about 1000 sheep and 600 Brahman cattle in 12,000 to 25,000 acre, cell-fenced paddocks at Gabyon. They were keen to apply for $700,000 through the RIC’s Farm Investment Loan program to build more fencing and build their Brahman cattle numbers up. They planned to use half of the money to build 125km of cell fencing, and the rest to buy more cattle and pay for the 600 head being agisted at their property. Now, 16 months on from first applying and with half of the loan money she hoped to borrow in her hands, Ms Cripps is speaking out about the application process she labelled “a huge, emotional rollercoaster” that put her, and could put others’, mental health at risk. “The way it reads, it could have been an amazing program,” Ms Cripps said. “It was just so disappointing that it was such a long and difficult process.” Ms Cripps started the loan process on June 24 last year, but it took three months for her to receive a letter on September 9 to say her file had “been accepted”. Four months on, in December, she received a letter to say her application would be classed as a Drought Loan, rather than an Infrastructure Loan. A month later, on January 1, the RIC contacted Ms Cripps to say she could apply for up to $790,000. With that figure in mind, the Cripps family set about making plans. They planned to spend $300,000 building of cell fencing and use the remainder to buy 600 head of Brahman cattle agisted on their property. Ms Cripps said she hit a roadblock when RIC would not consider the family’s income generated through carbon farming as security, reducing their borrowing power and reducing their property value by more than $1 million. The Cripps run a project with Select Carbon, under a contract through the Clean Energy Regulator, giving them cash for their carbon credits. Mr Cripps submitted her final application to RIC on January 6. It was knocked back three weeks later after RIC deemed the Cripps family did not have capacity to repay it or enough security. “They simply would not accept carbon farming as a form of income,” Gemma said. Two months later on May 25 — now eight months after they submitted their original application — Ms Cripps was advised she could borrow $300,000. “The figure was so much lower than what we had been advised before... and it was basically ‘take it or leave it’,” Ms Cripps said. On June 3, she accepted the offer, thinking the money was just weeks away. It took another four months for Ms Cripps to receive the mortgage documents. It was then another two months until the loan was available for them to use on October 7 — ending a 16-month wait. “From the things we read about the program, were so excited that this would help us get back on track,” she said. “We were hoping to have the money by Christmas (last year).” The additional money would have made a big difference at Gabyon, where Ms Cripps and her parents have finally broke ground on their fencing project. “We thought we had passed all of the requirements and to have it denied on grounds where the valuation was so horribly wrong, it was devastating,” she said. “Everything took so much longer than it should have.” Ms Cripps said it was “hugely concerning” that a process supposed to help producers in financial need was so stressful. “One of the final assessors said to me, ‘if you need the money so urgently, you probably shouldn’t have applied for it’,” she said. “I said to him, you have offered us this loan and the fact you cant get this done in a reasonable amount of time is not our issue.” An RIC spokeswoman said “incredible demand” for its “affordable loans” had increased when the Federal Government announced a two years interest free period late last year, for Drought Loan applications submitted before September 30 this year. She said the increase had “put pressure on RIC’s time frames to deliver the loans” and its 10 month median timeframe was “challenging for its customers”. The RIC has set a goal to reduce its loan application “handling” to 65 days for 80 per cent of its loans by the end of the financial year, and has recently employed 54 additional contracting staff with plans to employ more than 80 permanent staff. The spokeswoman said while RIC would not comment on individual cases, its loan process was similar to commercial lending process and needed to be “assessed in detail” and may include carbon farming “where relevant”.