ARE there too many peak bodies representing Australia's agricultural industry?
That was one of the hot topics discussed at the WAFarmers forum last Friday, which, heard from the heads of many of Australia's national and State agricultural institutions and advocacy groups.
With multiple advocacy groups for the sector seemingly having the same purpose - to get the best outcomes for the industry and influence State and Federal government policies affecting the industry - the question was raised in a panel discussion which included Grain Producers Australia (GPA) chairman Barry Large, GrainGrowers Limited (GGL) chief executive Dave McKeon, Cattle Council Australia chief executive John McGoverne and Wool Producers Australia chairman Ed Storey.
WAFarmers chief executive Trevor Whittington said the industry had changed since the National Farmers' Federation formed in 1979 and the majority of peak bodies were established.
"We are a $100 billion industry that is going to continue to grow and we have major challenges coming at us - it's not just live export," Mr Whittington said.
"You quickly forget the debate on glyphosate, that hasn't just gone away, and we only recently won the debate on GM (genetically modified) and we have the carbon tax debate.
"United you might be able to hold the tide back, but divided we fall."
Mr McKeon said the clear message received from farmers was that they wanted their peak representative bodies to be streamlined and simplified and that the GGL board supported that objective.
"We are excited about the current discussions going on in the grains industry about what that might look like in the future, how we might utilise the collective resources of State-funded organisations of GPA and GGL to deliver more effective and impactful representation for farmers right across Australia," Mr McKeon said.
"I think it's an exciting opportunity for the sector if we can mobilise the collective effort of the various organisations."
However Mr McKeon said decisions on how those organisations formed and what the representative structures looked like needed to be driven by farmers, rather than the government.
Mr Storey had attempted to begin the process of creating one federal wool representative body for the industry at the start of last year with former Federal agriculture minister David Littleproud.
"The vested interest and things that happened behind the scenes stopped that," Mr Storey said.
Mr Large said there was "nothing wrong" with the various agricultural groups and institutions having different perspectives on the way in which to tackle issues facing the industry, as long as they could be validated.
"We need the government to listen to the populous of growers and there are some things that we need to partner in to try and constructively get an outcome for growers," Mr Large said.
Mr McGoverne said there were "absolutely too many peak industry councils", and that the number of representative bodies had diluted the sector's messaging capability with government and the broader public.
"Nobody is ever going to get everything they want out of these discussions - we are not always going to agree," Mr McGoverne said.
"The thing we lack is discipline as an industry - to actually get behind a peak industry council and the decisions that come out of industry and say 'yeah, I don't agree with it, but I'll get behind it anyway', because as an industry we should be a powerful agri-political force.
"Because of that inconsistent messaging and inability to bring the whole industry along we probably shoot ourselves in the foot."
In terms of WAFarmers' own government relations, grains council president Mic Fels said the organisation had endeavored to improve its interactions with the State government, albeit unsuccessfully.
"There is an element of hostility from our State government towards the grain farming sector, generally, and our organisation," Mr Fels said.
"While we hear a lot about bullying in politics and in government, the only thing I will comment about that is bullying, in my experience, is gender neutral."