Drought-stricken winegrowers in Australia's Murray Valley irrigation district have appealed for Government assistance in the form of interest subsidies and tax relief for off-farm income in order to prevent the industry collapsing.

The Murray Valley Winegrowers Association, which represents growers responsible for more than a third of Australia's winegrape production, said today (27 April) that it is concerned that water allocations in the region will be either severely limited or cut to zero from July.

The association said such a move would devastate the industry, which could take up to ten years to return to full production, during which time Australia's export markets could be poached by foreign competitors.

The body called for interest subsidies, relief from local government rates, grants for essential property and increases to assistance packages for farmers exiting the industry.

Prime Minister John Howard said this week he was examining assistance measures for horticulturists.