PEAK wool and sheep producer bodies, WoolProducers Australia (WPA) and Sheep Producers Australia (SPA), have begun preliminary discussions that are looking at a possible merger.
Last month the two organisations, with support from Australian Wool Innovation and Meat and Livestock Australia, began collaborative work on creating a national Sheep Industry Sustainability Framework.
The aim is to define sustainable sheep production - whether for lambs, sheepmeat or wool - and track annual performance using a series of indicators.
A project team headed by sheep industry consultant, producer and researcher professor Bruce Allworth, has been appointed and begun consulting with industry representatives and stakeholders on the framework proposal.
Behind the scenes, a second taskforce, comprising WPA president Ed Storey and chief executive officer Jo Hall and SPA chairman Chris Mirams and chief executive officer Graham Smith, has been formed.
It is headed by independent chairman Andrew Henderson, who is also SAFEMEAT policy group and sheep traceability working group chairman.
That taskforce has begun preliminary discussions about the merits of a louder combined representative voice and economies of scale efficiencies that might flow from a possible merger to form a united peak body representing the sheep industry as a whole - based on the animal rather than the products produced from it.
Farmer representative member groups in each State have been consulted for their views - WAFarmers is a member of both the WPA and SPA and is represented on the WPA board by Kojonup sheep and wool producer and WAFarmers' vice president Steve McGuire.
WA also has a second representative on the WPA board, Pingelly cropping and sheep farmer John Hassell.
The Pastoralists and Graziers Association of WA (PGA WA) is a member of SPA - prior to 2017 SPA was known as the Sheepmeat Council of Australia.
PGA WA member, Woodanilling sheep and wool producer and Lambex 2018 chairwoman Bindi Murray is a board member of SPA.
While no date target has been set for a merger, Farm Weekly understands WPA expects something might be possible early next year, although there have been previous merger discussions between wool and sheepmeat representative bodies that have not amounted to anything.
If it does come off it might set a precedent for more consultation between WAFarmers and PGA WA over an eventual merger.
As previously reported in Farm Weekly, WAFarmers' president Rhys Turton earlier this year gained approval from his board to publically float the idea of a merger, so it could be considered.
While WAFarmers' zone groups are progressively debating the merger issue - debate has been robust but the groups that have considered the issue so far have supported further investigation of merging - the PGA executive has not supported the idea.
Mr McGuire on Tuesday confirmed merger discussion between WPA and SPA had been going on "for some time" and that representative member bodies in each State, including WAFarmers, had been consulted.
The aim was for the taskforce to come up with a model for a merger that could then be voted on by the membership of both WPA and SPA, Mr McGuire said.
He said there was support for a merger in WA but not necessarily in the Eastern States, particularly in New South Wales.
"While it might seem relatively simple to get together and nut out a model that's achievable, it's not as straight forward as it might seem at first," Mr McGuire said.
"In WA most of our farmers run a mixed operation, they do cropping and they run sheep for wool and for meat and for live export if the opportunity arises, so they can see the sense of a consensus approach.
"At WAFarmers we merged wool, sheep and cattle into our livestock section.
"But in NSW there are farms that are just cattle or just sheep, there are some that are just wool and they want to retain their autonomy.
"My view is we're not going to save a lot of money (by merging WPA with SPA), but it's about getting more value for the producer - a bigger bang for your buck," he said.
Mr Hassell said the only comment he could make about a potential merger between WPA and SPA was "it's a sensible thing to do".
"There's so many disparate groups (in agriculture) all seemingly pulling in different directions it's hard to keep track of, but a lot of the time they're all trying to get their voices heard yelling similar things," he said.