A myriad of reports but little action

29 Apr, 2013 12:20 PM
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THERE has been much discussion about the current issues facing WA agriculture, but few solutions have been put into action.

While the recent crisis meeting in Merredin highlighted the plight the Eastern Wheatbelt faces, reports commissioned as far back as March 2011, mostly by the Department of

Agriculture and Food (DAFWA), foreshadowed the

looming crisis.

Since March 2011, there have in fact been six reports

commissioned into the state of WA’s rural industry.

In June, 2012, Farm Weekly senior journalist Ken Wilson ran a series “Is ag dying?”

While these articles were a compilation of issues facing WA farmers, and were a reflection of what these farmers already knew was happening in the bush, they were dismissed by government and some industry groups at the time.

One group even alleged the problems were thought up by Farm Weekly staff “around the water cooler”.

Now this latest report, still in its draft stage, which was commissioned by DAFWA outlines recommendations from agricultural consultants who were interviewed by independent organisation, AEC Group about the situation of WA agriculture.

Even agricultural consultants interviewed for the report have told Farm Weekly that the process was a “waste of time”.

Then at the end of the daylong interview consultants were told to make out an invoice for $2000 to DAFWA for their time.

While some of the recommendations have been supported by agriculture consultants it seems industry confidence in DAFWA is fading, given that the AEC Group report adds to three that have already been released.

The first report - Adapting dryland agriculture to climate change: Farming implications and research and development needs in WA, was released in March 2011 and outlined the most important policy response was research and development to enable farmers to facilitate future adaption to climate change.

Other reports such as Port Jackson Partners director Angus Taylor’s released in October last year said that Australian agriculture needed almost $1 trillion dollars of capital to get the industry to a profitable state.

That report was commissioned by ANZ Bank entitled ‘Greener Pastures: The Global Soft Commodity Opportunity for Australia and New Zealand’ which looked at the agricultural opportunities in the development of Asia and some of the issues that go along with it.

More recently a report presented by DAFWA’s chief economist Professor Ross Kingwell at Crop Updates this

year - Broadacre farmers adapting to a changing climate

- led DAFWA director of grains industry Peter Metcalfe to say that the WA agriculture industry needed to rationalise.

In addition to these four reports, Farm Weekly believes

there are a further two reports completed but yet to be

released for public comment.

One report is believed to include data from agricultural

consultant company Planfarm, while another lays out a very blunt picture of Eastern Wheatbelt farming which was provided to former Agriculture and Food Minister Terry Redman but hasn’t seen the light of day.

One source close to DAFWA, who has seen a

copy of the report supplied to Mr Redman, said it ‘virtually outlined some shires that were up sh*t creek’.

The source said internal documents which had been

circulating within DAFWA gave the impression of what was coming.

But, the source said, “Alpha males within DAFWA were overwriting the message to Ministers.”

“All the information has been compiled to be able to

make some decisions,” the source said.

And an agricultural consultant, who declined to be named, said “DAFWA was lost and don’t know where they stand”.

DAFWA director general Rob Delane was away this week but a DAFWA spokesperson said the AEC Group report was targeting longer-term strategies to build the profitability and sustainability of the agriculture and food industry in WA.

“The draft report is currently with agricultural consultants for feedback,” the spokesperson said.

“DAFWA will be consulting with industry about this report and its recommendations, once the report is finalised.

“The department regularly meets with stakeholders and

conducts research to generate a shared understanding of the issues and opportunities facing industry, to accurately inform and direct DAFWA programs and policies.”

When Farm Weekly asked new Agriculture and Food Minister Ken Baston about the ‘hidden report’ Mr Baston said he had read a range of draft reports on issues facing the industry, most of which will be published when finalised.

“Some (reports), which contain data on farming operations as provided by banks, will not be released for obvious reasons,” Mr Baston said.

“However, it is clear there are some serious challenges facing the industry, many of which are not possible for myself or DAFWA to fix, such as the lack of rain, risk of frost, low commodity prices, high input prices, the high Australian dollar or other market-related

problems.

“However, where we can make a difference in areas like research and development and market development I will be working hard to ensure WA agriculture is in the best possible position to compete internationally.”

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