DROUGHT-stricken small businesses across the region have clamoured to apply for the federal government's small business drought loans.
The $500,000 loans, issued by the Regional Investment Corporation (RIC), were announced by the government in November last year, before becoming available on January 20.
Since then, droves of business owners have contacted their local rural financial counsellor to lodge their interest in the loans.
Gunnedah rural financial counsellor Andrew Formann said there had "been plenty of interest" in the loans so far.
"Lots of people have made contact with me about applying for the loans," Mr Formann said.
"These loans are operating a bit differently than the farming loans.
"Eligibility is broken down into stages, one of which is gathering as much information about your business as possible.
"Basically, if 75 per cent of your labour goes towards your business, 50 per cent of your income comes from your business and your business is reliant on agriculture, you're a very good chance of being eligible."
Mr Formann said the loan's two interest-free years provided business owners with plenty of options.
"One thing about the loans that is commonly overlooked is that, while they are through the RIC, 50 per cent has to be held through a commercial lender," he said.
"This feature allows people to refinance existing loans and, given it's two years interest-free, can go a long way to paying off existing loans.
"Another option is to use the loans to help people stay in business and get through the drought."
The region's recent rainfall has eased the burden on some local businesses; however, it has provided only short-term relief.
"So far, I have had a lot of people express an interest in applying for the loans, but only one has got their application going," Mr Formann said.
"However, I do expect that to change in the coming days and weeks.
"At this stage I think the applications will take about three to four months to process, so I encourage people to get the ball rolling if this is the route they want to take.
"The other big thing I'm encouraging people to do is to keep their banks in the loop.
"Regardless of whether the loans are going towards refinancing or helping the business stay afloat, keeping in contact with your bank is always really helpful."
Mr Formann said he was still taking on new clients every week.
"I think we have gotten to the point where people who may have been too proud to come and see me 12 months ago are starting to come in," he said.
"The feedback I have been getting from those people has been that they regret not coming in sooner.
"At the moment I am usually booked out a week in advance, but if anyone new needs the service, I am always available - and if I miss your call, I will always get back to you."