New farm head promises reform

Rueben HaleThe West Australian

As new WAFarmers president, Tammin grower Tony York has promised organisational reform as he strives to bring the 104-year-old farm lobby group into the modern agricultural era.

Mr York, who is a large-scale grain grower, said in the past 25 years agriculture had moved from a highly regulated to a de-regulated structure.

"Up-to-the-farmgate farmers have adapted, but I don't think we've fully developed the opportunities deregulation offers," he said.

"Part of that opportunity is going up the supply chain and marketing and branding agricultural products."

Mr York said supporting free and efficient trade was the most critical thing facing the industry today.

"Costs to import and export need to be a focus. We have to be maintaining pressure to create a low-cost environment, with expanding a revenue base for farmers," he said.

It was the second time Mr York had thrown his hat in ring to lead the organisation. He suffered a crushing defeat in 1997 when he opposed controversially appointed beekeeper Kevin McMenemy in the then Western Australian Farmers' Federation election for general president.

Mr York said he believed then, as a young 39-year-old farmer, that many people were unwilling to give him support.

"I certainly will come into the role this time with a lot of experience and with the organisation well on the way to turning things around," he said.

"Now we have to capitalise on the opportunities we have created.

"We've got to continue to be prudent with the financial management of the organisation and continue to engage the members. But I would like to work with the team to broaden the offer made to the members.

"We are going to be more articulate in the way WAFarmers demonstrates benefits of the advocacy process.

"I am also keen to promote some extra benefits for members, such as the brokerage service offered by Australian Reliance Insurance."

Mr York said other initiatives would be announced in due course.

"I would like to increase financial incentives for members and trim operation costs at the same time," he said.

"It will be appealing and beneficial to our members if we focus on the offer of services that will assist with the day to day running of their farm business.

"This will come in the form ofprograms that assist farmers; such as with the purchase of farm equipment, legal services and exclusive rebate programs.

"Added to this, I would like to broaden the income-revenue stream to the organisation.

"WAFarmersFirst milk has been very successful for the organisation and I would be keen to engage more in the conversation of expanding the product range.

"The concept makes a lot of sense and it I want to further develop the brand and take more WA-grown-and-produced products to the consumer.

"This helps the consumer to help the organisation help the farmers."

Politically, Mr York, who is well-known for being in favour of farm group amalgamation, said it was important for the State's farming industry to work together.

"We have some very important challenges facing the industry at the moment, with rail access still unresolved and privatising of Fremantle ports," he said.

"There are many agricultural sectors and structures that we can do a lot more with and I certainly want to engage with those groups to do more."

Mr York also said he was keen to explore proposals under the National Farmers Federation umbrella.

"A move to a national model would give us a countrywide perspective but I would also be very reluctant to forfeit WAFarmers as a State-based independent identity for some time," he said

"A retrospective observation is that being an advocate and affiliated nationally has always been an important thing for the federation.

"I think there's an independent function for WAFarmers as an advocacy group for the State's farmers that feeds into the NFF. But it is also very important our members' interests are represented nationally as well through the NFF."

Mr York said he was excited to begin his term as president next month. "WAFarmers has a great team and I am looking forward to working with them all," he said.

"I am also especially looking to be working with the new grain section president, Duncan Young, and new senior vice-president, Lyn Slade."

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