WAFARMERS president Tony York plans to step down from the top job a year early in March in order to better represent WA farmers at a national level.
Mr York, who joined the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) board in November after putting his hand up for a three-year position, said he would continue to advocate on behalf of local farmers, “just on another stage, that’s all”.
In an open letter to WAFarmers members last Friday Mr York acknowledged that while being an NFF board member complemented his role as WAFarmers’ president, “it does dramatically increase the personal commitment and time required to do both positions the justice they deserve”.
“In view of the added demands, and being conscious of my personal and farm business commitments, I am advising members of my intention to stand down as your president,” he wrote.
A third-generation farmer and director of Anameka Farms, Tammin – a 17,000 hectare mixed cropping and sheep operation he runs with son Oscar and brother Simon – Mr York said he would step down as president at the March 14 WAFarmers annual general meeting.
Mr York, 62, admitted attempting to remain WAFarmers’ president for the final 12 months of his second two-year term while being on the NFF board – which involves attending at least six meetings a year in Canberra plus numerous teleconferences – would have been “a step too far”.
“This way (stepping down as WAFarmers president), we’re hoping for a slight nett decrease in overall off-farm advocacy activity,” he said.
Mr York and wife Donna became grandparents a fortnight ago when one of their two daughters delivered their first grandchild.
On the farm, cropping equipment is being serviced before going back in the shed, with Mr York happy with harvest results despite about a quarter of the wheat crop being frost affected – the rest came in at just under three tonnes per hectare – the barley being down on previous years and lupins below average due to poor germination.
But the sheep operation is in full swing with the Yorks completing their main shearing this week.
They run 6500 Merino ewes and had their best ever lambing at 120 per cent last season.
As well, they run a small pure-bred Awassi fat tail flock, hence Mr York’s very personal interest in the live sheep trade issue which he said was “not dead yet”.
His family had bought Awassi fat tails, a Middle Eastern sheep breed, while they were still in quarantine in the 1990s after they were first brought to WA as part of a scheme to promote live trade exports, Mr York said.
While he readily admitted the ongoing live sheep export debate had been the most complex and difficult issue of his tenure as WAFarmers president, it was also one of the issues that precipitated his move to a national focus.
“Over the past 12 months the live trade issue has certainly highlighted for me the need for WA farmers’ interests to be at the forefront of all national forums,” Mr York said.
“It doesn’t matter how logical something might seem, when politicians are involved you need somebody there in Canberra walking the corridors, meeting in person with government and putting forward the views of WA farmers.
“More and more decisions are made in Canberra that have an impact on agriculture in WA, so it is incredibly important that WA agriculture has a voice, especially inside national representative organisations like the NFF.
“The WA view is often not recognised or is overlooked (in national debate), issues of importance in WA agriculture do not necessarily carry that same standing in the Eastern States.
“On issues like live trade and on global issues like tariffs, bilateral trade and other strategic issues that have potential to affect the performance and profitability of agriculture in WA, I hope to be able to give it a voice at a national level via the NFF.
“I’ll be relying on WAFarmers to continue to let me know what that WA view is,” he said.
First elected as WAFarmers president in March 2016 after serving four years as senior vice president under predecessor Dale Park, Mr York has at times attracted criticism for a more conciliatory approach on issues like the live sheep trade than some of his contemporaries representing other organisations.
However, Mr York said he believed he had been able to achieve more with his approach than others might have achieved with a more outspoken or confrontational stance.
“You need to be inside the tent (when issues are being discussed and decisions made), not on the outer,” he said.
“More than ever, the past 12 months has shown me how important it is to get in dialogue,” he said.
As WAFarmers president Mr York represented the organisation on the NFF’s powerful members’ council which meets three times a year to discuss and formulate NFF policy.
He is now entitled to attend members’ council meetings as a board member.
Mr York’s standing down as president clears the way for WAFarmers to appoint a new representative to the NFF members’ council, effectively doubling its voice and vote.
“It is the president’s prerogative whether they represent WAFarmers on the (NFF) members’ council,” Mr York said.
“It will be up to whoever replaces me as acting president to determine what will happen there.”
Whoever is elected senior vice president at the WAFarmers annual meeting will automatically become acting president for 12 months to complete Mr York’s term to March next year.
Under its constitution, WAFarmers president elections are held every two years but senior vice president elections have historically been held annually.
Current senior vice president since 2016, York mixed cropping and sheep farmer Rhys Turton has confirmed he will renominate for senior vice president at the annual meeting and is prepared to take on the acting president role.
Mr Turton farms with his parents and two school-age sons.
For 20 years he also ran a second rotational cropping family property at Koorda.
He is chairman of COGGO (Council of Grain Grower Organisations Ltd) and a director of GrainGrowers Ltd.
“I have every confidence that Rhys has the experience and political skill to lead the organisation into the future and will be able to serve WAFarmers well as acting president through to the end of my set term,” Mr York said.
However, he pointed out it was possible there could be more than one nomination for senior vice president at the annual meeting and an election would then be required to determine who would get the role and acting presidency.
Prior to his role as president, and senior vice president immediately before that, Mr York was active in WAFarmers in the 1990s when he was also senior vice president.
He was Avon zone president for about 25 years and a member of the executive council before the organisation adopted a board structure.
Mr York and his family have also been heavily involved in hosting salt-affected farm land research and trials over an extended period.
Anameka saltbush, a line of old man saltbush developed as a palatable livestock forage for salt-affected and infertile land and released commercially in 2015 under a licencing agreement with a Tammin nursery, was named after the York family’s property in honour of their involvement.
Mr York and his brother and their father Peter before them, have hosted saltbush pasture research by the CSIRO, The University of Western Australia, Department of Agriculture and Water Resources and industry research funds for more than 15 years.
- See Tony York’s full letter outlining his resignation, on page 12, Section 2 of this week’s Farm Weekly package.