New farm machinery group 'covers all parts of the chain'
With a background in chemistry and metallurgy, Alan Fisher brought invaluable knowledge of corrosion and wear resistance to WA’s tillage sector in the 1980s, kick-starting his long and passionate association with the State’s agricultural industry.
He was involved with Fabcast Foundry & Engineering, which had a radical idea of casting tillage points from a wear-resistant alloy, rather than simply press-forming them from sheet steel.
When Primary Sales Australia took over Fabcast in 1985, it continued to pursue this concept and, despite wide-ranging manufacturing and on-farm difficulties, it led the charge to develop cost efficient tillage points with a wear resistance that was five or 10 times greater than traditional steel points.
Mr Fisher, as business development director, has since helped to steer Primary Sales Australia’s advances in tines, mountings, bars, unique harvester precision knife guards and Vibra-mats to ensure the company is a national market leader in design, production and distribution of no-till farming gear.
He said pursuing design and manufacturing solutions to practical cropping problems in order to boost on-farm efficiencies was what kept him motivated to get out of bed every day.
As a long-time member and interim president of the WA Regional Manufacturers Inc (WARM) and Farm Machinery Dealers Association (FMDA), Mr Fisher has also recently overseen the merger of these two groups to form the Farm Machinery and Industry Association of WA (FMIA).
With the spotlight on farm machinery this week at the Dowerin GWN7 Machinery Field Days, reporter Melissa Williams spoke to Mr Fisher in his new role of FMIA president about the outlook for the sector.
Q. Why the impetus to merge WA's peak bodies representing farm machinery manufacturers and dealers?
A. The two organisations have sound reasons to work together and have a long history of sharing secretariat support.
The new body is a single entity that can liaise with policy makers and put forward its members' points of view on a range of industry matters.
The FMIA now represents every part of the chain from the genesis of an idea through production and promotion of that idea to farm machinery dealers and distributors, who then see it through to the end user and application on-farm.
The group will deal with issues right along the input supply chain, from regulations to the general health of the agricultural sector, which impacts on all players along the pipeline.
Q. The FMIA has a strong focus on ensuring the educational and training needs of the agricultural sector are met, why has it embraced this issue?
A. We want tertiary courses in Australia available for farm mechanisation and agricultural engineering.
Without mechanisation, modern agriculture would grind to a halt.
Yet, there is not one tertiary institution in Australia that offers an agricultural mechanisation course, whereas there are more than 1000 tertiary graduates specialised in this field being turned out of Chinese universities each year.
We can't blame the Australian universities because they will only run courses for which there is strong demand.
All agricultural sectors - including ours - need to work at making the industry 'sexier' and encourage young people to take up careers in agriculture in order to create that demand for tertiary level training.
We have a high-tech agricultural industry in Australia and an increasing reliance on mechanisation but we don't have the tertiary qualified support to back this up.
We need highly skilled people not only in the development of technology but also to support technological advances.
For example, we are one of the leading nations in development of no-till equipment but we need new science graduates to continue making advances in this area.
Q. What are some of the other burning issues for the FMIA in the future?
A. We are progressing a range of regulatory and practical operational issues for our members with bodies such as Main Roads and WorkSafe.
We are also involved in issues surrounding on-going efficiency gains through the supply chain.
We recognise manufacturers and distributors of agricultural machinery need to play their part in boosting efficiencies to be competitive.
We have to ensure we are competitive with countries like China and don't end up at the mercy of foreign suppliers of agricultural products.
In a bigger context, the outlook for agriculture is challenging, in terms of boosting food production from declining natural resources.
We need to keep innovating and finding ways to boost crop production while conserving moisture and land.
In Australia, our shallow soil profile and variable rainfall means it is hard for overseas machinery suppliers to supply equipment that meets our needs.
We need an active and vibrant supply base in Australia that is continually refining and evolving to meet future challenges and this presents exciting opportunities in our sector of the industry.
Q. Farm machinery will be in the spotlight at the Dowerin GWN7 Machinery Field Days this week. How important are the traditional machinery field days to manufacturers and dealers?
A. Machinery field days are very important to local communities, such as Dowerin, Mingenew and Newdegate.
But the broader range of exhibitors now included in field day events has taken some of the focus away from machinery and reduced the time farmers are spending talking to machinery dealers and suppliers.
The market has also shifted. The digital revolution - in terms of the internet and social media - has reduced machinery manufacturer and dealer reliance on focused machinery field days and there has been a bit of a shift towards more geographic-specific 'ride and drive' events that attract many farmers to look at new technology developments.
Machinery field days like Dowerin are still important for showcasing wares and networking but they are also a cost impost on dealers and distributors and have become more like a big country fair.
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