Newman backs CBH co-op structure

Jo FulwoodThe West Australian
Wally Newman.
Camera IconWally Newman. Credit: Kate Matthews

For Chairman-elect Wally Newman, his vision for the CBH Board is simple.

Mr Newman said the group would only do something if it delivered advantage to the grower.

"Investments have to perform in their own right, they are there for the simple reason of providing value to growers," he said after his appointment to the top job last week

A staunch defender of the co- operative structure, Mr Newman said his career with the bulk handler began because of privatisation debate in 1999.

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"I was a dissenting director who was asked by the growers back in 1999 to defend their co-operative structure," Mr Newman said.

"That ship has turned around from that corporate discussion back to a co-operative direction and we are now sailing in the right direction."

The Newdegate farmer is convinced no other structure can deliver the benefits of a co- operative model.

"There is no structure than can give us the same advantage over our competitors, there is no structure like it that makes growers the sole beneficiary of the value created," he said.

Mr Newman is a passionate supporter of the rail network and the reinstatement of Tier 3 lines as transport of choice for WA grain.

"If you relate it to the rest of the world, everyone is going back to rail as a consequence of energy shortages, and environmental and community impacts," he said.

"Right now, the Canadian Government is putting pressure on its rail operators to perform because rail owners are not maintaining their rail to an efficient level to enable their country to export their produce on time."

A board member since 2000 and deputy chair during 2008-12, Mr Newman will take over the pos- ition from retiring chairman Neil Wandel in August.

But he does not step into an easy role, with many growers looking closely at the bulk handler and its moves into the east coast storage and handling system.

Mr Newman said he would not shy away from the debate and there would be many more strong conversations of a similar nature throughout his chairmanship.

"We've got competition coming in and if growers want the same level of service and they want cheaper prices, it's difficult to have both, and the only way you can have both is to diversify or generate new income streams," he said.

"I have been a big promoter of that, and as a consequence of that, we've gone into Asia. I am a big supporter of having investments that we can leverage off the CBH balance sheet, where the money is borrowed off the asset, not the growers' handling fees, so that assets work for the growers to generate new income streams."

Mr Newman said working closely with Mr Wandel over many years had made for a smooth transition.

"I'm fairly familiar with the role, no doubt it's bigger than just being the deputy, but I've worked very closely with Neil during those four years as deputy chair, and that was when the new Co-operative Act had to be adopted, so we had to get a greater than 75 per cent vote to achieve that, and we were actually able to achieve a 96 per cent vote," he said.

Born and raised on the family farm, Mr Newman did not always plan on being a farmer.

A trained commercial pilot, he was working as a land surveyor, and had plans to head to New Guinea in the early 1970s to work on a copper mine, when a freak accident at a country air show killed Mr Newman's mother and grandmother.

"That took me back home, and that was the start of me taking over the farming operations," he said.

The Newman family began a clover seed-cleaning operation to diversify its farming income after the introduction of rye grass took away their ability to grow profitable crops.

"I can remember, as a young guy, helping my father put ryegrass in," Mr Newman said.

"That was going to be the new generation of feed."

But it was an industry decision that forced many Wheatbelt farms out of commercial cropping.

"Without weed control measures they couldn't get anything to grow other than rye grass," he said.

As a result the farm went into clover, and the family bought clover harvesters to contract around the lakes district, and in Hopetoun.

The seed-cleaning business was a natural progression, and is owned and run by Mr Newman's younger brother Robert.

Now farming over 12,000ha in Newdegate and the Lakes district with his two sons, Mr Newman has stepped back from the day-to-day farming operations.

"I'm only home about half the time," he said.

A founder of the successful Newdegate field days, Mr Newman has also been deputy president of the Shire of Lake Grace.

He said he believed growers should put their trust in CBH board members to deliver the right outcomes for the organisation.

"I've been in local government for 25 years and you'll never get away from politics, but discussions have to be made on facts, and most of the time that will outweigh politics," hesaid.

"CBH has to have the very best members on the board, so they shouldn't be political appointments, they should be there on merit."

Mr Newman said when growers put someone on the co-operative board, they should view the appointment as they would the employment of a farm manager.

"Their farm depends on CBH to get the best financial outcome possible," he said.

He said the power of a co-operative model should not be underestimated, and hinted at plans to use it in other ways.

"We'll only do something if it's of an advantage to the growers, but the co-operative structure has huge bargaining power - collectively we are very strong, but individually we have no bargaining power," he said.

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