AGRICULTURE and Food Minister Dean Nalder has admitted too many good staff were lost from the Department of Agriculture and Food because the government did not have a clear enough strategic direction for the portfolio.
A few months into taking on the agriculture portfolio, Mr Nalder also said DAFWA would receive more funding, would suffer no new staff cuts and would benefit from a review of core operations by acting director general Mark Webb.
Mr Webb is working with a select group of industry experts and is due to report by mid-year.
"What I fear is that in the past five years we have potentially lost very good people out of department that we never should've lost," Mr Nalder said.
"I don't believe we were clear enough on our direction and our strategic principles.
"I think there are some fantastic people within the department, working really hard and who are very passionate and are delivering great outcomes for the sector, but for too long, successive governments have not necessarily provided the right focus and support for them."
Mr Nalder said DAFWA should have a responsibility for advocating for the agricultural sector and a core focus on biosecurity, but some other functions could be shared with other government departments such as State Development or through the Royalties for Regions or Water for Food programs.
"I believe there is a responsibility to be an advocate for the sector," Mr Nalder said.
"The department is not going to pass off its functions, as an advocate they will lead and challenge it if they don't like the outcomes on behalf of the sector.''
He said the government had not clearly outlined the department's core objectives in recent years, and that as he too was "not clear" on these, he was waiting on the results of Mr Webb's review.
"At this moment, as the minister coming in, I am not clear so I have asked Mr Webb to look at the core operational aspects of the business," Mr Nalder said.
"For me, what I have been doing in the first six to seven weeks is really going back and challenging the department first about the core objectives of government in supporting the agriculture sector.
"I don't think we have been really clear about that in recent times.
"I think there has been a lot of large attempts to (restructure) DAFWA to get areas out that aren't necessarily adding value.
"But for me, to do that really effectively, we need to be clear on the objectives and the vision of what we are trying to achieve and what the role of government is in supporting the sector."
Given a State election is due before March and the widespread anger in the sector over funding and staff cuts to DAFWA in the past few years, Mr Nalder said his priority was rebuilding the department's foundations.
"Getting the structure right and getting set up, from my corporate experience, is a three to five-year rebuild," he said.
"We have an election in nine months time, so what I am trying to do as quickly as possible is get the strategy right, get the sense of an organisational structure behind it and get it moving in the right direction.
"If we lose the election, hopefully the right foundations are laid to continue to evolve into a more meaningful service for the sector."
Mr Nalder criticised past decisions to cut staff at the department and said the government should have had a clear direction and strategic principles in place before the cuts were made.
"There is no intention for more cuts and I have had funds reallocated in the out years (of the State budget),'' Mr Nalder said.
"We are going to see an evolution not a revolution of the roles and functionality of the department."
Mr Nalder said he believes DAFWA should still have a role in agricultural research and development.
He has been discussing the issues with Mr Webb, who is working with a panel which includes Ministerial Agricultural Advisory Committee chairman Peter Nixon, biosecurity expert Kevin Goss and senior Treasury and DAFWA representatives.
"It is critical we get this bit right, I don't really want a set time as when it will get done - as it is more important that it is done right,'' he said of the review.
"We need to set this up for the future."
Mr Nalder said while Mr Webb was an acting director general, he was impressed with the work Mr Webb had done and that he could potentially become a permanent appointment.
"I don't see an urgency to rush things," Mr Nalder said.
"I have a lot of faith and confidence in the work that he is undertaking.
"I get a sense of the excitement that's within the department - that they see a change in direction."
Mr Nalder was raised on a farm in Wagin and has an agricultural background, including in sheep, pigs, cattle, and cropping.
He sold his farm to his brother in 2008.
Mr Nalder said he thought DAFWA should focus on biosecurity as a core element.
"The State Government and DAFWA have a responsibility to ensure that we continue to protect our agricultural sector,'' he said.
"WA has its own unique circumstance as a State and we have to protect it.
"We also have a responsibility to support the sector to grow. This is where I don't think we have been strong enough.
"I believe it is important to do research on a product, but it's not enough, we need to understand the complete supply chain, market access, scale and logistical issues."