Park hangs up hat

Rueben HaleThe West Australian

After serving for four years as head of the State's largest farm lobby group, WAFarmers president Dale Park is looking forward to life back on the farm.

It's been a sometimes bumpy ride for the affable Badgingarra cattle farmer as he and his team stood head on and faced the winds of change.

WAFarmers has had to stare down demons under the watch of Mr Park, after the loss of more than half a million dollars since he took the presidency in 2012.

The "unsustainable" situation had to be amended and amended fast.

The organisation could not afford such losses in an environment of declining membership, and with many in the industry questioning the lobby group's relevance in an increasingly globalised market.

Meanwhile, the financially fragile organisation also had to battle some of the most torrid political winds ever faced by the industry; with the live export debate raging and the future of the Wheatbelt's grain transport in tatters with the closure of all Tier 3 railway lines.

"When I came to the role in 2012, I was faced with a challenging financial situation," Mr Park said.

"The organisation was losing a lot of money and it was a situation that we needed to turn around.

"We had already recorded some bad financial losses before my time that needed to be rectified and it was imperative the balance sheet was cleaned up in order for WAFarmers to survive into the future."

WAFarmers introduced a five-year plan, which would set the 104-year-old farm lobby group on a mission to uncover new sources of revenue and purpose.

"Lawyer Jo Whitfield offered her time free of charge to work with WAFarmers and author the plan," Mr Park said.

"By the time our current chief executive Stephen Brown was appointed, the organisation was on track to move forward with our strategic plan, backed by a precise budgeting process in place.

"It was timely because we were able to secure the talents of lawyer Ian Barden Brown as our special expertise member.

"Ian's appointment has been regarded as an absolute godsend by the organisation, because along with the new team of me, senior vice-president Tony York and vice-president Lyn Slade, we have been able to use his skills and knowledge to execute the plan most effectively."

Last year WAFarmers recorded its first surplus in four years, reporting a $140,000 turnaround from 2014 and boasting its first operating surplus since 2010, of $22,382.

Mr Park said part of the turnaround was a result of the launch of WAFarmersFirst as a new revenue stream.

Under an exclusive deal with Coles the group recorded about $140,000 in sales, with 25 per cent of the income accrued in the Dairy Industry Project Trust for use on projects which would result in a direct benefit to the WA dairy industry.

There are plans to expand the WAFarmers brand, with the first shipment of WAFarmersFirst milk and WA honey due to arrive in China early this year.

"The milk was not an easy sell to our dairy section, because there was a lot of bad blood with our dairy section who strongly objected to Coles selling $1-per-litre milk," Mr Park said. "At my first conference the dairy section had put forward motions, wanting to start a war with Wesfarmers (owner of Coles), so emotion surrounding the issue within the dairy industry was running high.

"In order to find some sort of resolution we met with, first, Wesfarmers and then Coles hierarchy, and in some of our first conversations we asked if there was a way we could give back to the industry."

Mr Park said he was looking forward to returning to the quieter life on the farm with his wife Marion.

"In my time as president I was definitely involved in some quite heated battles on behalf of the farming industry in WA," he said.

"It was very disappointing for me, personally, as I am sure it was equally for others involved in the fight to re-open the Tier 3 rail lines.

"We thought we'd had a bit of a win with the release of the Parliamentary inquiry into the Management of WA's Freight Rail Network and believed the State Government would be compelled to do something, which they didn't.

"But the thing I will miss the most about being president is the opportunity to help people."

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