REBUILDING the Department of Agriculture and Food WA (DAFWA) to be more commercially aware and innovative in its support of growing the farming sector is the aim of its new minister Dean Nalder.
Addressing a Council of Grain Growers Organisations (COGGO) function on Thursday last week to present the initial Piper Awards for innovation in the grains industry, Agriculture and Food Minister Mr Nalder outlined his expectations for DAFWA.
Mr Nalder, who grew up on a Narrogin farm before following his father and grandfather into politics, told grain growers, industry leaders and academics at the function that, in his opinion, successive State governments over the past three or four decades had been "remiss" in failing to provide adequate support for agriculture.
"I think we haven't been clear about the role of government in supporting what is the second largest industry in WA," Mr Nalder said.
"If I look at what governments have been doing it's been the odd project or a little bit of research, but it (agriculture) has been drifting.
"If anything, for the past five to 10 years the demise of farming has accelerated to the extent I was asked to arrest it and really to analyse it and see what should occur," he said.
Mr Nalder said he had the support of Premier Colin Barnett and Treasurer Mike Nahan in his plan to rebuild and "rebase" DAFWA.
"This is a three to five-year build and they added $25 million to years three and four - that's $50 million back into my bottom line," Mr Nalder said.
"I don't even know if I need it yet.
"But this work is underway right now so that we can play a much greater role in providing support right across all aspects of agriculture in WA.
"We want to see the whole sector double over the next 10 years and I'd like to be a lot more bullish about commercialisation - being innovative on how we commercialise that opportunity.
"I've been talking to corporates and others about how we protect R&D (research and development) here in WA and capture the opportunity here in our State."
He said he had asked DAFWA to become the "advocate for agriculture" across government.
"I don't want DAFWA to be an apologist in that if it goes to another department, like environment or somewhere else, and they knock a proposal back, they (DAFWA) just pass it on and say 'sorry'.
"I said I want you to be the champion of the sector and to take those departments on.
"The second thing I said was I need you to have commercial acumen in the department.
"They (DAFWA) need commercial acumen, not because I'm expecting them to have to make a dollar, but everybody they deal with in agriculture, wherever they are in the supply chain, is a commercial business.
"If they are going to provide advice and provide support to the sector then they actually need to understand the business.
"They have to understand the whole supply chain, or the value chain and the scale required."
As an example, Mr Nalder quoted a recent exchange he had with DAFWA officials over a new variety of mango, a derivative of the Kensington Pride variety grown in the Ord River irrigation area.
He said Kensington Pride normally yields 6-8 tonnes of fruit per hectare but the new variety had yielded 30-40t/ha at trial sites across northern Australia and at one site went 80t/ha.
"DAFWA's gone 'look what we've done' and I've gone 'great, what now?' and there was silence.
"I asked what the market was?
"The comment was 'we supply everything to the domestic market'.
"They said this one will come onto the (domestic) market a bit earlier and there is an opportunity for it.
"I've just visited China with Bill Marmion, the Minister for State Development, and I can tell you that up in China they are very keen on mango, and on West Australian beef as well.
"No one has looked at what is the market opportunity, what is the scale that's required to actually underpin that market and what scale is required to underpin an efficient supply chain."
He also quoted high shipping costs for live cattle, particularly to Indonesia, out of Broome, Derby and Wyndham as another example of the importance of understanding scale.
Shipping companies knew they could base prices from those ports just below the trucking costs to get cattle to Darwin or Fremantle ports, Mr Nalder said.
"We don't have the scale to actually leverage against that (price manipulation) in an efficient supply chain," he said.
Mr Nalder said he did not believe governments had been sufficiently supportive in the past of new developments or emerging industries to ensure they thrived, but he was determined to see that change.
"I see tremendous opportunity in the agriculture sector.
"We are rebasing and looking at the core objectives of DAFWA. We are now looking at the strategic principals that underpin it.
"We need to get clear actions that are tangible behind those objectives so they are not just motherhood statements."
COGGO chairman Chris Wilkins described meeting Mr Nalder as "a breathe of fresh air to find somebody so pumped up about agriculture, so enthusiastic".