PASTORALISTS and Graziers Association (PGA) Western Graingrowers Committee chairman John Snooke has laughed off claims his committee is fractured and in serious danger of losing political clout after it revoked its support for Grain Producers Australia (GPA) last week.
The backflip is reported to have been only one of many in the last six months after the PGA also changed its position on a number of grains-related issues including marketing arrangements, ports and stocks information.
Mr Snooke also denied being on the puppet strings of other long-serving members of the Western Graingrowers Committee, saying he was more than capable of making his own decisions when it came to the creation and support of good policy.
The PGA's withdrawal of support for the GPA came as a surprise to members of the grain industry with close links to the PGA.
And none more so than former PGA vice chairman and founding GPA board member Barry Large.
The Miling farmer resigned from his PGA position in April due to what he described as a difference in views on national representation from the current chairman of the Western Graingrowers Committee.
Though still a member of the committee, Mr Large said he couldn't continue to sit by and watch it make poor decisions knowing how important national representation was to the average WA grain grower.
"I've always considered the PGA's views to be progressive and I'm quite surprised at how Western Graingrowers has reacted this time," Mr Large said.
"The previous chairman backed the GPA and the current chairman has drifted off.
"That's really where it ends for me."
A number of farmers and industry sources associated with the PGA asked not to be named but expressed their concern at the direction taken by Mr Snooke and his committee in relation to the GPA.
The large majority of those Farm Weekly spoke to supported Mr Large's backing of the GPA and described it as an industry-good function which helped to provide a stage for serious grains issues under the nose of State and Federal Governments.
"It's so important for growers to have national representation," Mr Large said.
"If the wider grains industry, including its growers, doesn't put the big issues in front of the Federal Government how can we expect to be heard?"
Mr Large said the PGA had an opportunity to develop policy, help form GPA to be a workable product for Australian growers and have a serious impact on where its members' Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) funds were best spent.
"The PGA is an organisation that I have so much respect for," Mr Large said.
"I was taught to broker a deal as best you can but somewhere along the line you have to take the middle ground.
"But the committee doesn't have middle ground now."
Mr Large also sits on the Biosecurity Council of WA and is the chairman of the Grains, Seed and Hay Committee.
"When I walk in to do those jobs I take one hat off and put a new hat on," he said.
"I do not carry any pre-conceived ideas about the PGA or my other commitments, I'm there to do a job.
"Since the very inception of the GPA we have never had a vested interest.
"We've never compromised ourselves and we've never compromised our values.
"Our only vested interest is to look after Australian grain growers and try to get links to Federal Government.
"Those influential members of the grain committee talk about how the beast gets you in the end, well the beast has got them.
"They're living in the past.
"They're still talking about the demise of the Australian Wheat Board, well believe it or not, the single desk has gone, let's move on to the next fight and the next good industry function.
"That's exactly what they should be doing."
Mr Snooke staunchly denied allegations he was out of his depth at the head of the Western Graingrowers Committee and said he was well aware of industry talk suggesting he was at the hands of two other grains committee members.
"It's just blatantly untrue," he said.
"I don't take any decision lightly and nobody is pulling my strings and I don't autonomously make policy.
"I look into each issue as deeply as I can and the committee comes to a position."
Mr Snooke said the Western Graingrowers Committee withdrew its support from the GPA because of its concern surrounding a number of occasions when the GPA's solution to an industry problem was to intervene.
He said at the GPA's inception, the PGA outlined the key criteria for the retention of its support.
The GPA had to work towards retaining the competitive marketplace.
But Mr Snooke said as time went on he and his committee grew more acutely aware of the GPA's desire to be "interventionist."
When asked if that was why the PGA withdrew its support, Mr Snooke said there had been a number of positions on which the PGA felt quite distant but that was of major concern.
"What we're also really concerned about is the GPA driving a national industry stewardship program," Mr Snooke said.
"It's very disappointing.
"The decision-making ability of farmers will be taken off them and they'll have to adhere to so-called industry standards of best management practice.
"I've consulted with our members at zone meetings and they don't want it
"They are disappointed with the GPA and the GRDC."
In responding to Mr Snooke's comments, GPA chairman Peter Mailler said they were misguided
"The GPA isn't driving it at all," he said.
"The GRDC commissioned the process and the GPA, as a representative body for the Australian grains industry, has been proactivly involved in the consultation procees.
"Our industry is under threat from pressures surrounding water management and a number of other issues.
"We're asking all State farming organisations to get involved and contribute their feedback so that we can represent those views in discussions.
"And that included the PGA."
Mr Snooke said he believed in a competitive marketplace with no industry or government intervention.
He believed those who criticised him were deliberately trying to take the PGA's grains committee to "an ideological place" it had never been before.
"If it drifted to that place where intervention is accepted and agripolitics could capture the wheat market again I wouldn't be involved with the PGA," he said.
When asked if there was a need for middle ground in order to best represent Australian grain growers on a national level, Mr Snooke used the following example.
"If the PGA's grains committee had wanted middle ground or had sought middle ground through the heated wheat marketing debate the market might not have ever been deregulated," he said.
"In that debate we didn't take the middle ground and we were proven right.
"Governments will always open the door to us.
"Some people hate that we won't compromise but that's what a free and democratic society is."
p Pick up a copy of next week's Farm Weekly to read more about the PGA's retraction from the GPA and what it means for WA grain growers.