New minister has strong farming background

Brad Thompson and Rueben HaleCountryman

You can take the boy out of the bush, but you can’t take the bush out of the boy.

That is Dean Nalder’s message to those who question his ability to handle the agriculture portfolio after a career in banking and on top of his role as transport minister.

The former ANZ Bank executive lives in Applecross and represents a city electorate, but a big piece of his heart remains on the Wagin farm where he grew up.

“I was born and raised on a farm,” he said yesterday. “I’ve done the night runs on tractors, been a roustabout in the shearing shed, worked for CBH in the end-of-year school breaks.

“We had stud sheep, Suffolk and Merino. We also had a pig stud so I grew up helping dad at the Royal Show every year, preparing and presenting pigs.

“When I was young, we also had a cattle stud in Australian Illawarra shorthorn. A lot of our cropping was around growing grain for pig feed and oats for sheep feed. We had 4000 sheep, 200 head of cattle and 700 pigs on-farm at any one time which we grew out to bacon weight.”

Mr Nalder stayed on the farm for two years after finishing boarding school at Wesley College, but realised the property wasn’t big enough to support him and older brother Peter.

He moved to Perth to study economics and played for South Fremantle in the WAFL before embarking on a corporate career which kept his young family on the move between Perth and the east coast.

In 2001, he grabbed the opportunity to buy a neighbour’s farm in Wagin. He and wife Colette moved back to WA in 2004 and toyed with the idea of settling in Wagin with their three children.

The city won out, but Mr Nalder spent every spare moment on the farm.

“I was spending weekends out there putting crop in and taking the crop off and did that through until 2008,” he said.

The farm was sold to his brother in 2008, but Mr Nalder spent the next three years cropping on his father-in-law’s farm near Pingelly.

“I really have an appreciation of the land,” he said. “I love the feeling of creating a good crop. There is nothing worse than a bad crop because it makes you feel miserable. A great crop gives you a sense of pride.”

The Nalder family has a rich history in rural politics. His father Cambell was a National Party MP from 1986 until his death from cancer in 1987 and grandfather Sir Crawford Nalder was agriculture minister from 1959-71.

Mr Nalder said he felt a strong connection with the challenges faced by rural communities.

“I’ve watched the farming community suffer but the outlook for the agriculture sector is probably the best I’ve seen it in my whole life,” he said.

“It doesn’t mean we won’t have challenges with global prices, exchange rates and weather, but the demand for food and the role that will play on a global basis really puts us in good stead.”

Mr Nalder said one of his priorities was to listen to the sector about what it wanted from the State Government and to look at the role of the Department of Agriculture and Food WA, which had been hit by big job losses in recent years.

He supports the repeal of laws to free up the use of genetically modified crops in WA, is waiting for more information before speaking publicly on a push to corporatise CBH and supports the sale of Fremantle Port to create a new live export facility in the outer harbour.

Meanwhile, former Wheatbelt Railway Retention Alliance member Lindsay Tuckwell said the appointment of Mr Nalder was yet another State Government “slap in the face” to the Wheatbelt.

Ms Tuckwell had to take a break from the WRRA last year because of health complications.

“I personally was extremely disappointed to see him appointed as agricultural minister because he has shown in his transport portfolio that he is either unable or unwilling to listen to what farmers in areas affected by the Tier 3 closures had to say,” she said.

“Therefore, the agricultural ministerial portfolio should be a stand-alone appointment.”

Ms Tuckwell said the appointment leaves many farmers worried about the future.

“The State Government seems to be going down the same road with the sale of the Fremantle Port, as it did with the sale of the railways,” she said.

“The original railway lease was able to be changed and without transparency we could end up in the same position if the port sale goes ahead.

“The Government pretends it’s about building an alternative live export port away from Fremantle, but people in the bush aren’t stupid and we know its just about a cash-strapped State Government desperately trying to raise revenue.”

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