THE Department of Agriculture and Food (DAFWA) will shift its focus to work more closely with industry and grower groups, becoming an advocate for the sector and conducting work that is underpinned by high level research.
Speaking at the Pastoralists and Graziers Association (PGA) conference in Perth last week, DAFWA acting director general Mark Webb said the department would "become an advocate in the sector".
"The mantra used within DAFWA is that we will be an economic development agency underpinned by science, innovation and business acumen," Mr Webb said.
"I believe we should be in a partnership model to use the government investment that is available to agriculture to deliver a better outcome than each of us can deliver on our own."
DAFWA is undertaking a review to help shape its future direction and resourcing.
The review panel includes agri-consultant Peter Cooke, Mr Webb, Ministerial Agricultural Advisory Committee chairman Peter Nixon, biosecurity expert Kevin Goss and senior Treasury and DAFWA representatives.
"We are not going back to what DAFWA was like 20 years ago," Mr Webb said.
"The ground has shifted and there are growers groups which provide demonstration R&D and companies that are doing variety and application trials - that sort of activity is not something that DAFWA needs to get back into."
Mr Webb said part of the agenda of the review was to identify what were the "core functions of DAFWA" and how the department should work with industry.
"I think part of the transition that has happened with DAFWA is that we have disconnected from large sectors of the agricultural industry and we need to find ways to get back into contact," he said.
"If there's a mistake that I think DAFWA has made, it has been in not communicating the work that it has been doing in partnership with GRDC and grower groups and there is a perception that DAFWA is not doing that work when in fact it is.
"We need to better communicate with you about the projects we intend to undertake and what the outcome intends to be."
He said an independent study commissioned by DAFWA revealed that it would play a key role in doubling agricultural export values from $8 billion to $16b.
"It might seem like a big ask - but the independent research has shown that a doubling of the value of the sector is entirely reasonable and in fact that we are underestimating that opportunity," he said.
"Part of the vision for DAFWA is to work with industry to provide the settings to double that value."
Mr Webb gave a snapshot of the department: 60 per cent of staff hold a professional or technical role and almost 40pc work in a regional area, about 200 staff have a PhD or masters and 42pc of staff actively participate in research and development on a daily basis.
Mr Webb said while the budget for DAFWA was "stable" for the next two years, estimates for 2018-19 would lead to a "challenging time".
Its 2016-17 budget estimate is $114m, but this will drop to $108m in 2018-19 and $106m in 2019-20.
"The challenge is there are a lot of calls on the government purse and we need to demonstrate that we can stand alongside those calls from other sectors and strongly represent why we believe government should invest in agriculture," Mr Webb said.
"We are working closely with Treasury to clearly identify the role DAFWA should play, what it should be and how it should support the sector."