Centenary a proud celebration

Countryman

Proud of the past, confident of the future is the theme WAFarmers' 100th birthday celebrated in fine form at Burswood last week.

"We have a lot to be proud of in our past but we also have a lot to focus on for the future," the organisation's 17th president, Mike Norton, told more than 350 farmers and agri-industry representatives at the gala dinner.

But through the good and the challenging times in agriculture, he said the objective of being there to serve farmers had not waivered.

A letter from Robert Maitland Leake, of Kellerberrin, dated February 4, 1912, sent to other farmers about wage claims received from the Rural Workers Union, is credited as ultimately leading to the formation of the Farmers and Settlers' Association (FSA).

Since then the association has had several identities.

In 1920 the FSA became the Primary Producers' Association, in 1946 the Farmers Union of WA, the Primary Industry Association in 1982 and in 1987 it was renamed the Western Australian Farmers Federation to more closely align itself with the National Farmers Federation, itself formed in 1979. Finally, in 2001, WAFF was rebranded WAFarmers.

Along the way there were spin-offs - the forerunner to Wesfarmers Ltd, the Westralian Farmers Cooperative, was formed in 1914 and separated from the FSA in 1919; the Country Party was established in 1913 and the forerunner of CBH, Cooperative Bulk Handling, was founded in 1933. It came after a joint committee of the Primary Producers' Association and Wheat Growers' Union was formed to explore bulk wheat handling

Over the years there were many hard-fought battles won and lost.

Winston Crane, president from 1982-89, recalled a 7000-strong march by farmers on State Parliament in 1985 for a fair go for farmers and on a national level, the battle for the waterfront, the formation of the Australian Farmers Fighting Fund and its first case, the Mudginberri Dispute against the Meat Industry Employees Union.

He also suggested that an injunction could have been taken against the Federal Government when it slapped a ban on live exports last year.

Trevor de Landgrafft, president from 2004 to 2008 during an era of industry deregulation, said the organisation in the future would be different and it was important to embrace technologies like social media and to look at how to get young people involved in farming.

"It is not a question of whether farming will exist but who will be doing the farming," he said, noting that WAFarmers had always stood for the family farm.

"More of the same old is not going to cut it in the future."

Also looking ahead, Mr Norton believes food security is one of the most important issues facing Australia and the world.

He also stressed the need to make agriculture attractive to the next generation of farmers otherwise "our food security is at risk".

Likewise, guest speaker Janet Holmes a Court, who spoke about education, her passion for the arts and her involvement in agriculture, first helping out at age nine roustabouting on a friend's farm at Hines Hill.

"For the future, one of the most important issues facing the world is food security," she said. "We hear of peak oil but peak food is a greater problem."

She said peak food might be much closer than many believed, citing that England had only a few days of food left during the Icelandic volcanic crisis which halted flights.

"Eighty per cent of the food in London is imported from overseas," Mrs Holmes a Court said. "Of the developed countries, only Australia and France are self sufficient in food and I think we should help our farmers to keep it that way."

WAFarmers' 100th birthday fittingly coincides with 2012 being Australian Year of the Farmer and AYOF director and farmer David Cussons spoke about opportunities and ways to become involved in the Year of the Farmer and its aim to raise greater understanding of agriculture in the cities.

In officially opening the centenary conference last Thursday, WA Governor Malcolm McCusker also highlighted the optimistic outlook for the sector.

"We should be confident about the future of farming," he said.

Mr McCusker also referred to the decreasing amount of arable land, the issue of food supply, how Australian farmers were at the forefront of adopting new technology and the increasing numbers of farmers with tertiary level education.

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