Department keeps disappearing

Rueben Hale, Jo Fulwood and Brad ThompsonThe West Australian

Farmers have been told the Department of Agriculture and Food WA will survive as little more than a regulatory body from next year after more job losses.

Dubbed the disappearing department, DAFWA will shed research duties aimed at boosting productivity and profitability on farms.

The loss of 300 jobs over the next two years is expected to leave DAFWA with about 700 full-time staff.

It is already reeling from the loss of about 500 jobs under the Barnett Government.

Many of those who remain will continue to work from ageing headquarters in Bentley, labelled an "absolute disgrace" by Agriculture Minister Ken Baston.

The Pastoralists and Graziers Association said the State Government was turning DAFWA into a regulatory body.

PGA president Tony Seabrook said the latest cuts would leave the department floundering for a cause.

"There seems to be little clarity on the future design of the department," he said.

Budget papers reveal while the Government plans to axe many services, it has already committed $75 million of Royalties for Regions money for five Seizing the Opportunity initiatives - five of which commenced in 2014-15 - which it said aimed at improving biosecurity, farm risk, sheep and the northern cattle industry.

The Budget papers said the medium and long-term prospects for WA's agriculture and food (agrifood) sector continued to increase.

It also said money was needed to direct to these areas because industry has aimed to double the value of agriculture in WA to $16 billion by 2025 and there is an opportunity of this being further enhanced by the falling Australian dollar and the advent of key free trade agreements.

Mr Seabrook said further financial decay in the department would inevitably lead to a more regulatory role and exacerbate the PGA's historical concerns.

"Previously, they began vacating the research space which many farmers with limited places to go to get the information they needed," he said.

"That spawned these growers' groups and the growth of these individual groups all over the State.

"For a government touting agriculture in Asia, you'd be investing more money than they are in farm research and I believe there is currently misdirection in funding."

Mr Seabrook said DAFWA needs to determine what its role would be in the future.

"What is it - a trade or regulatory department?" he said.

Mr Seabrook said farmers "are already" shaking their heads in dismay because of the department downsizing by the Barnett Government.

WAFarmers president Dale Park said the Government and DAFWA executives had briefed industry stakeholders about the latest cuts.

"There will be virtually no research and development, no market development," he said.

"It means they will be able to handle most of the regulatory functions they need to do but if we do have a crisis, say an outbreak of an exotic disease, they won't be able to cope."

But Mr Baston said the State Government remained focused on helping agrifood industries to develop top-quality, market-oriented products to capitalise on growing worldwide demand for safe, quality agriculture and food products.

He said DAFWA would provide services totalling $213 million in 2015-16 to drive a profitable, innovative and sustainable agriculture and food sector for WA. This compares to $219 million in 2014-15.

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