WHEATBELT farmers were given the opportunity to vent their frustrations to politicians over the lack of confidence in WA agriculture at a public meeting in Kulin last Friday.
A crowd of 350 people turned out to the meeting with the current lack of farming profitability the main talking point.
The meeting was organised by Lake King farmer and WAFarmers Lake Grace-Corrigin zone president Bob Iffla and was titled 'Agriculture in Crisis - looking for a brighter future'.
According to Mr Iffla the meeting was all about making politicians "earn their vote."
It offered an opportunity for a number of Liberal, Labor, National and Independent politicians to make some strong claims and put their case to voters prior to the March 9 election.
Mr Iffla set the scene for what was going to be a strong meeting when he opened proceedings in front of a picture of an old farmhouse with nobody living in it saying "we don't want to see more old houses with nobody living in them".
The meeting was attended by the Liberals (represented by Member for the South West region Nigel Hallett and candidate for Central Wheatbelt Stephen Strange), Labor (candidate for agricultural region Darren West and candidate for Central Wheatbelt John Watters), Nationals WA (Member for Wagin Terry Waldron) and the Rural Independents (candidates for the agricultural region Max Trenorden, Philip Gardiner, Bill Cowan and Lindsay Tuckwell) who were all there to discuss a range of issues.
The meeting had five key issues it wanted to look at - carry-on finance, health and education, Tier 3 rail, live sheep and cattle trade and biosecurity - with each party given four minutes to explain their position.
But only a few politicians gave original answers with many resorting back to political spin.
Mr Iffla pushed for them to give farmers a decent answer saying it was up to them to make promises to the farmers and not spend the next four years breaking them.
Profitability was a major talking point; particularly following Westpac head of grains Chris Moore's presentation on banks having a lack of confidence in lending to the agriculture sector at the moment.
He said having a Crop Mitigation Insurance (CMI) policy in place would allow banks to begin to think about giving farmers five-year finance rather than one year.
And with Australia's total farming debt reported as about $65-80 billion, WAFarmers eastern region executive Trevor De Landgrafft said most of the issues in agriculture could be summed up by a lack of confidence in the industry.
"I think we are all struggling with a bit of confidence at the moment and I think even governments are struggling with confidence to reinvest into agriculture," Mr De Landgrafft said.
"And if our governments are having issues with confidence to do that then what do you think our banks are thinking?
"How are they going to have confidence in our business as we go forward?"
During his opening address of the meeting, Mr De Landgrafft took aim at the Agriculture and Food Minister Terry Redman saying the education program to help train farmers was a "program to teach dumb farmers to suck eggs."
"I don't think lack of education is the problem, I think the lack of margin in a business and lack of profitability is what our problems are and I would ask our political aspirants to consider that," he said.
It was clear the Year 7 issue was also high on people's minds as a number of families raised their concerns about the future of smaller communities and its schools.
All the candidates had similar views on the issue, but none of them came up with any solutions to the potential problem or any commitments to change the policy, which is set to be introduced in 2015, with some regional schools receiving exemptions until 2018.
Mr De Landgrafft also weighed into the Tier 3 debate saying the Nationals were paying the price for not campaigning on the issue early enough.
"How wrong have the Nationals got this policy?" he said.
"If only they had got in there and championed the keeping of the Tier 3 rails open, we wouldn't be having the debacles now and they wouldn't be having their members deserting them in the bush like they are."
Mr Iffla said the issue of foreign investment was just shifting the problem to a different owner and was not addressing the significant issue.
"In regards to foreign investment I have no problem with it but they have to be profitable as well," Mr Iffla said.
"They have to have a return on capital.
"So if the government thinks that is going to be the only answer to sell our properties off, I'm sorry but you have got it wrong."
Mr Iffla said overall it was a productive meeting in particular the overwhelming support for CMI which was announced last week.
"There were probably a lot of other issues beyond what we have got in agriculture, but I think we handled quite a few issues in the time we had," he said.
"I got a lot of good feedback about the meeting from the growers that we are sort of putting the pressure on the politicians to let them know just how the bush is feeling and the problem is the lack of profitability and the high input costs that is really getting them.
"People are really worried about getting carry-on finance and money is really tight this year."
A number of farmers that Farm Weekly spoke to after the meeting were disappointed with the lack of strong responses and commitments to agriculture.
While many at the meeting believed they weren't provided with the answers they came to find, Mr Iffla disagreed and said there were a number of commitments from the politicians.
"I reckon they had strong commitments," he said.
"The only real blemish on the meeting was Darren West on the live cattle trade, he didn't say he was against the trade, but he said we need to certainly look at moving to boxed meat and that's not quite practical at this stage."
The live cattle and sheep trade was also discussed with the Liberal, Nationals and Rural Independents all supporting an expansion of the live trade and Labor the only party to officially say a progressive move to a chilled trade needed to be made over the next 10-15 years.
The final issue raised was the issue of biosecurity and the lack of funding from government to agriculture.
It was agreed across the board that agriculture needed more funding but no commitment was made.