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Incoming president calls for unity among agricultural groups

Jayne RickardCountryman

Coming off arguably one of the more challenging years the agricultural sector has faced, incoming WAFarmers president Dale Park admits there is much to do in securing the future of the State's rural communities.

The Badgingarra sheep and cattle farmer will be officially inducted as president at next month's WAFarmers centenary conference but has already put together his vision for the sector.

After 30 years in farming and various roles with the lobby group and other agricultural organisations, Mr Park is looking forward to meeting the challenges the industry will face in the coming years.

His biggest concern is the decline of rural communities as agriculture becomes more efficient, requiring less people to run properties and therefore live in and contribute to small communities.

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Mr Park believes WAFarmers needs to evolve to lobby the desires and interests of the entire rural community, not just the agricultural sector, in order to benefit the State's regional areas.

"The message out of our vision to government is going to be that if you want rural WA to even look slightly like it does now, we have to find things to do in the country other than agriculture," Mr Park said.

"Because if you're going to rely on agriculture to be the driver of rural life, it's not going to happen. We need to have other industries and other things happening in country areas.

"Country life in a country town is still the same. It's very much a smaller community. You know everybody, you know your neighbours and I think we underestimate that.

"But on the other side, if the education, health and all those other facilities that people take for granted in the city aren't there, then you really can't blame people for not wanting to live in the country."

The past 12 months have been demanding and stressful for those involved in Australia's agricultural sector, particularly as a result of the four-week ban and subsequent changes made to the live cattle export trade.

When Australia's $1 billion live export industry was brought to its knees last year after an ABC television documentary revealed footage of animal mistreatment in Indonesian abattoirs, it sparked calls for change.

Almost immediately, politicians, media outlets and lobby groups were inundated with demands to overhaul an industry that for many years had flown under the radar of most Australians.

Mr Park believes the high-profile and ongoing coverage of the live export situation highlighted how little people knew about what was required to fulfil Australia's - and other nations' - dietary requirements.

He fears the gap between city and country folk is widening and that while many people take an interest in whether their food is organic or not, few understand how high quality the produce they receive from local farmers is.

"The live shipping debate has really shown ... that people have to be comfortable with the idea of eating meat," Mr Park said.

"We have gone through a period in agriculture where we have tried to gloss over those sorts of things…don't tell people that we have to kill sheep, for instance, to get mutton. A lot of people think it just turns up in the supermarket.

"We have to get that connection back with the city so they know where their food comes from."

As part of his vision for WAFarmers, Mr Park plans to push for better labelling of local produce so consumers can easily identify the quality and origin of their food.

While the live export ban led to higher welfare standards and changes to how Australian exporters operated, Mr Park said it also highlighted how difficult it was for the rural sector's voice to be heard.

Perhaps controversially, he wants WAFarmers to join forces with the other agricultural groups - including the Pastoralists and Graziers Association (PGA) - to create one overarching lobby group to better approach government on all issues.

He said the differences between WAFarmers and PGA were "not that great" and thought it was mainly differences in personality and philosophy that had kept the two groups apart in the past.

"Government has to deal with about 15 farming organisations, if we could get our act together and have one lobby group, we'd be much better off. That'd by my dream, whether it comes about is another question," Mr Park said.

"We almost oppose each other out of principle. It's just stupid.

"I'll certainly be looking to have closer relations with other organisations."

WAFarmers office bearers *

_President: _ Dale Park (Badgingarra)

_Senior vice-president: _ Anthony York (Tammin)

_Vice-president: _Max Watts (Wandering)

_GRAINS SECTION _

_President: _ Kim Simpson (Ballidu)

_Senior vice-president: _ Duncan Young (Beverley)

_Vice-president: _ Glenn Mitchell (Esperance)

_MEAT SECTION _

_President: _ Jeff Murray (Beverley)

_Senior vice-president: _ John Wallace (Esperance)

_Vice-president: _ David Slade (Mt. Barker)

_WOOL SECTION _

_President: _ Ed Rogister (Lower King)

_Senior vice-president: _ Ken Clark (Beverley)

_Vice-president: _ Ian McDougall (Wagin)

_BOARD REGIONAL MEMBERS _

_Eastern: _ Trevor De Landgrafft (Ravensthorpe)

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