Farming a tale of two regions

Brad ThompsonThe West Australian
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UPDATE 10.05am: A major survey has shed light on the growing divide in farming in WA after two bumper harvests in parts of the Wheatbelt.

The survey of 1600 farmers compiled for the Commonwealth Bank showed WA producers had a strong understanding of the need to focus on quality to cash in on the Asian food boom.

It found one in 10 WA farmers planned to add to their workforce this year compared with one in 20 nationwide.

The positive hiring intentions in WA come with Australia's regional unemployment rate at its highest level since 2003.

In March, the rate was 7.34 per cent in non-seasonally adjusted terms. The rate in outback WA has climbed from 2 per cent in 2002 to about 7.8 per cent.

Commonwealth Bank agribusiness manager in WA Natasha Greenwood said the survey showed a trend to boost production, but the level of optimism varied across the State.

"What we're seeing in the State is something of a tale of north and south," she said. "Producers based south of Perth and around Albany, Katanning and Esperance are faring quite well, but conditions are a little tougher around the Gascoyne and northern agricultural areas."

The Agri Insights survey involved 291 farmers in WA. More than 40 per cent said crop improvement and animal health were more important to profitability than input management.

Ms Greenwood said upholding WA's reputation for clean, green products was a key focus.

"It was great to see that almost half of WA farmers, at 43 per cent, are really leveraging their competitive advantage by focusing on animal health and crop improvement to meet the demand that is coming out of Asia," she said.

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