FARMERS need to be clear about what they want for their industry so they can influence government policy today, according to National Farmer's Federation president Jock Laurie.
Speaking at last week's WAFarmers annual conference, Mr Laurie said it was important everybody was on the same page because any split in view made it easy for governments to exploit to achieve their own aims.
"We need to get our arguments very clear and precise and get the policy right for the future of the industry," Mr Laurie said.
"Lack of profitability is the biggest threat to the agricultural industry and the biggest threat to profitability is bad government policy and legislation at both a State and Federal level."
Mr Laurie said farmers throughout the world had the same problems.
"It's about profitability, encouraging young people to stay on the land and competing on the international market," he said.
"It's all about dealing with environmental issues, welfare issues, water issues and all the pressures being applied to the industry across the board."
Mr Laurie said farmers had a responsibility to provide food but that was not always taken into account when governments made legislative decisions.
And with 60 per cent of Australia's food exported, agriculture's role in providing food also needed to be taken into consideration every time policy was set.
Live exports were one of the issues farmers needed to consider.
"The Australian agricultural industry cannot ignore the many welfare groups throughout the world that are not happy with the situation (of live exports)," Mr Laurie said.
"If we want to maintain overseas markets, farmers need to better address livestock management from unloading to slaughter at both a political and agricultural level."
Mr Laurie said the milk contract prices had already affected farmers yet Coles was doing a wonderful job convincing the Australian community it was doing a fantastic job for everybody.
He said farmers needed to keep applying pressure to get the community to understand its impact on agricultural production.
"This is all about the future, where we're going and how we're going to manage that and the fact is that in lots of ways, bad government policy at a State or Federal level can certainly affect profitability and the farmers' decisions as to what they produce," Mr Laurie said.
"The only way we're going to be able to maintain agricultural productivity is by maintaining profitability."
"I haven't seen anywhere yet where people will continue to operate any business if they can't make money."
Mr Laurie said Australia's agricultural sector was getting squeezed on a regular basis and not only had to compete on the domestic market with imported products that did not have the same costs but also with the downward pressure from competition between supermarkets.
"It can't continue to happen because the industry can't continue to absorb the costs," he said.
Mr Laurie said even though the agricultural sector had kept Australia out of recession for a couple of quarters during the global financial crisis, profitability in the Australian industry had dropped remarkably over the last 50 years.
"We're now down to the lowest wool production of about 430 to 440 million kilograms from more than 1.1 to 1.2 billion kilograms and 170 million sheep down to 70 million sheep.
"That's market signals in force," he said.
With the wool market recovering, Mr Laurie said complaints about expensive land prices today should have been considered 15 years ago.
"We need to be very careful about all the policies and pieces of legislation that are brought in, that we understand what we want and that they deliver what we want," he said.
"We have to determine our policies and then line up the legislation."
Mr Laurie said the Australian market did not have barriers to imports, except for the necessary quarantine and biosecurity issues and also needed access to overseas markets to get more competition for its produce.
Other issues that needed to be considered were the impact of any carbon tax on profitability.
He said costs of agricultural emissions could not be passed onto anybody else and in any case, whether agricultural emissions were excluded or not made no difference as any tax on processors would be passed onto farmers.