WAFarmers back in the 'black'

18 Dec, 2002 10:00 PM

WA's largest farming lobby group, WAFarmers Federation, has made a dramatic turnaround of more than $225,000 in the past financial year to put the group back into profit.

It ends a two-year campaign of cost-cutting and financial management, which places the Federation in strong position as it enters 2003 and beyond.

Firmly back in the black, WAFarmers closed its books with more than $100,000 equity and enough cash flow to avoid entering overdraft in the new year for the time in years.

Membership income grew by $30,000 to $1.45million, with the average member enterprise spending about $500.

The number of members firmed at about 3000 enterprises, which equated to about 4500 individuals.

Most group debts have been cleared, new corporate sponsors have entered serious talks with the group and a membership officer will join the team.

WAFarmers executive director Doug Parker said the turnaround was no surprise to the group, which had set the wheels of recovery in motion two years ago.

He said WAFarmers had remained on track since hitting a low of $330,000 in deficit at the close of 2000. Last year the group had clawed back $186,000 to sit about $124,000 in deficit.

With a few a 'book entries' still outstanding at November 30 - the end of the WAFarmers financial year - the group expected it would announce a surplus in excess of $100,000 at its annual conference in March.

Mr Parker said a combination of cost cutting and close monitoring of expenditure had been the key to the turnaround, with about two thirds of expense accounts under budget in the past year alone.

"I monitor things on a weekly basis and the board monitors figures on a monthly basis," he said.

"We just had to put in place strategies to get us to this position without decreasing our effectiveness."

WAFarmers was now relatively debt-free with all national bodies except the National Farmers Federation paid in full.

And an agreement to start repaying NFF had been reached, with the first of three $50,000 repayments to be made in February, followed by two more in subsequent years.

The group had a long-term desire to rejoin the national lobby as full members, but the decision remained in the hands of the board and would depend largely on corporate sponsorships.

A new deal looked likely after discussions held last week, and would be announced at the March conference.

Mr Parker said it was unlikely any one sponsor would replace QBE, which had contributed $400,000 annually prior to dropping its support, but a number of other investors appeared keen.

Cash flow was currently higher at this time of year than it had been for several years, according to Mr Parker.

It meant the group would not need to enter overdraft, which was typical early in the financial year before most of its membership payments were made in February.

Despite memberships accounting for about 70pc of its income, WAFarmers has planned a major push in 2003 to improve participation numbers and communication with farmers.

"The ideal would be to have all operating costs covered by memberships," Mr Parker said.

As part of a strategic plan - which was finalised with the help of a facilitator in October - the group decided to employ a membership officer.

Expected to begin early in the new year, the officer will develop an extensive database of members and target needs through comprehensive surveys and up-to-date information and communication.

To entice farmers, further benefits were being offered through Farmcard, which had added Mitsubishi and health insurers Manchester Unity in the past year to its list of discounters.

And it was hoped a fuel provider would come on board in the coming year.

The outlook in 2003 was positive with the group expecting to break even.



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