A BIOLOGIST who grew up on a New Zealand dairy farm is the first specialist dairy staff person appointed by WAFarmers as part of a restructure.
Laura Stocker, who has a doctorate in marine ecology from Sydney University and master and bachelor degrees in ecology and biology from Auckland University, was appointed last week as the first WAFarmers' dairy section executive officer.
She works with farmers on the Scott River plain, home to WA's two largest milk producers, to develop a wind and biogas renewable energy plant utilising dairy effluent and other agricultural waste products.
Dr Stocker started this project as an associate professor in sustainability at Curtin University and has continued as a volunteer with the Augusta-Margaret River Clean Community Energy group.
Part of her new role with WAFarmers will be liaising with dairy section president Michael Partridge and vice president Ian Noakes on research and preparing reports on issues affecting the WA dairy industry.
Over the past three years it has become increasingly apparent to WA dairy farmers that their relatively small, domestic, white milk-focussed industry has created local issues specific to them, but also has shielded them from the worst of the global market forces which have severely affected the larger, much more export-focused east coast dairy industry.
Under new president Rhys Turton and new chief executive officer Trevor Whittington, WAFarmers is transforming into a more streamlined and agile organisation with fewer executive staff and all of its previous research officers having moved on in the past 12 months.
Mr Whittington confirmed Dr Stocker has been appointed as an executive officer for the dairy section.
"It is the first time we have had a specialist dairy person," Mr Whittington said.
"(It is) also the start of the rebuilding (of WAFarmers) after staff changes as we reposition the organisation and refocus our priorities."
Dr Stocker will be based at Margaret River where she is surrounded by dairying areas.
She is also not far from the State's main dairying region from Harvey through Brunswick Junction, Dardanup, Boyanup to Capel.
Much of her recent work has involved policy analysis, community engagement and strategic reviews in the South West with a focus on sustainability in relation to coastal land uses, river catchments and agriculture.
Collaborative research work by her with Aboriginal colleagues resulted in an award-winning website derbalnara.org.au about indigenous uses and values of the Perth coast.
She has contributed to scientific books and authored papers on subjects such as sustainability, coastal ecology and the impact of climate change on coastal environments.
Dr Stocker said she was excited about her new position.
"I grew up on a dairy farm in New Zealand where my family were pioneers in conservation dairy farming, and many are still actively farming," she said.
"Since coming to WA in 1989, I have had a university career in policy research, teaching and engagement, mostly related to sustainability in the rural, regional and coastal sectors.
"I enjoy learning from farmers about their practices, innovations, research and policy," she said.