WAFarmers leads bid for unity

Haidee VandenbergheCountryman
The West logo

Farm lobby groups will have to transform or fall by the wayside, amid concerns over static membership numbers.

WAFarmers is currently undertaking a membership drive and has directed each zone to recruit 10 new members.

The membership round up comes after the organisation posted a $67,000 loss for last financial year and predicted a $30,000 loss for this financial year.

But despite the hit to revenue, incoming president Dale Park claims that with $750,000 in the bank, WAFarmers is still in a strong position.

He said the bid for more members and structural transformation was more about maintaining viability into the next decade.

WAFarmers' membership currently sits at 40 per cent of the WA's farmers, but as the number of growers continues to contract, Mr Park said the organisation would need to sign up half of the State's growers to keep its membership revenue.

The other options were to offer themselves out to contract work or instigate a bold new wave of consolidation within the grower representation sector, he said.

The group hopes to entice grower bodies from other agricultural sectors, such as viticulture, horticulture and varying meat groups, to come under the umbrella of WAFarmers.

"We'll be looking at sponsors or even fee for service type stuff and getting involved with government programs as a facilitator or administrator," Mr Park said.

"But one of the real problems we've got in agriculture is that we have myriad agricultural organisations and if we could all speak for farmers, there would have to be real advantages.

"What we're looking at is how about just having a farmer organisation (because) whether you're a dairy farmer, a vegetable grower or a vigneron, issues like water for instance are all in common.

"The next step is going to be to talk to individual organisations and see whether we can find some commonality."

Discussions haven't yet begun with any other groups and there's no timeframe to complete discussions, but Mr Park said the feedback from members of some of groups in other sectors had been positive.

The need for a unified voice from the WA agriculture sector was one of the major issues expressed at the recent WA leg of the Blueprint for Agriculture workshop, with growers claiming they may get more traction with government if their views were directed through one body.

It's long been an issue of contention between WA's two farm groups - WAFarmers and the Pastoralists and Graziers Association (PGA) - whether they could amalgamate.

WAFarmers is keen, but the PGA claim it's off the table completely.

Mr Park said with deregulation in full force, there is now no reason the two groups shouldn't join forces.

"I would say 100 per cent of our members and 90 per cent of the PGA membership wants one organisation," he said.

"But if we're brutally honest I would say there is probably more chance of getting together with other agricultural-type organisations rather than the PGA."

Mr Park believes a unified voice would strengthen farmers' messages, but PGA president Rob Gillam wholeheartedly disagrees.

He said there was no case for an amalgamation, particularly when the two groups still exhibited distinct philosophical differences.

"It's not something our members are calling for," Mr Gillam said.

"(Having two groups) is an advantage, it allows not only members from PGA and WAFarmers, but others to take part in discussions through the media. Otherwise differences of opinion would be settled behind closed doors in a board room."

He denies that PGA needs to amalgamate to stay viable.

While Mr Gillam said it was difficult to maintain revenue through membership, he said they had balanced their books.

"We don't allow it to run badly askew and at this stage we're in a very sound financial position," he said.

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails