By CHELSEA CORMELL
THE threat of further cuts to the rural purse in this year's May budget has WA's farm groups fearing the worst.
Set to be handed down on May 16, the budget is rumoured to strip even more money out of Agriculture Department funds and Main Roads WA.
WAFarmers president Colin Nicholl said the Department had already lost about $10m during cost cutting exercises in 2001, and looked set to lose more.
He said service standards had suffered because staff cuts had left the farming industry to rely on private consultants to provide industry advice, instead of Agriculture Department employees.
The increased number of quarantine breakdowns in the past year was further evidence the Agricultural Department needed more, not less government funds allocated from the May budget, Mr Nicholl said.
"Due to a lack of funding the Department is losing the battle to control and eradicate plant and pest incursions, such as skeleton weed and wild dogs and this is taking its toll on many parts of the agricultural and pastoral regions," he said.
Mr Nicholl said if the state persisted in cutting expenditure to rural WA, WAFarmers would consider lobbying the Federal Government to bypass the State Government and pay money destined for rural roads straight to Shire Councils.
PGA president Barry Court said despite the recent resurgence of the rural sector, it would be unfair to take away support.
He said the industry had already suffered under "big cuts" in the past 12 months, and some areas were still recovering from hardship, including two regions, which were still zoned under exceptional circumstances.
He said funding was critical for maintaining the high quarantine standards, which had placed WA commodities in a strong position on international markets.
"I hope agriculture is not viewed as a secondary portfolio, when it is a major earner for our state," he said.
It was feared cuts to the Main Roads budget would also have serious impact country regions.
Mr Nicholl and Mr Court agreed deteriorating roads posed an increasing safety risk to country drivers.
Mr Court said the stretch of the Great northern Highway between Wubin and Bindoon was particularly dangerous, with a great number of cattle deaths occurring from overturned trucks.
He said roads would need more money spent once the Midland sale yards were relocated, regardless of whether they were situated at Moora or Muchea.
Salinity and water were other major areas of concern, Mr Court said.
"We've already had big cuts, we don't need more," he said.