AFTER Rick Wilson's father died when he was just 14-years-old, he became involved in helping run his family's Katanning sheep and cropping farm with his brother Allan.
In the years since, Mr Wilson has continued to play an active role in agriculture, whether it be through his farming operations, advocating for the industry as the Pastoralists and Graziers' Association of WA (PGA) western graingrowers committee vice-chairman from 2000 until 2008 and then its chairman from 2008 until 2011, or representing the Federal electorate of O'Connor since 2013 through to today.
Part one of Mr Wilson's interview with Farm Weekly journalist BREE SWIFT covers his upbringing in regional Western Australia and how his farming experiences have affected his view that the government needs to "get out of the way" so that the sector can get on with the job.
QUESTION: What did you want to be when you were younger?
ANSWER: As a kid growing up on a farm west of Katanning, I only ever wanted to be a farmer.
Q: After your father died when you were just 14 years of age you became involved in helping run the family farm. How did this experience impact you and what do you remember about your dad?
A: My dad was a child of the Depression.
He was the youngest child of his family and I'm the youngest child of six.
He was born in 1915 and was 15-years-old in 1930 when the Depression really started to hit.
Dad was a returned soldier and our property was a war service land settlement property.
He was a very conservative farmer compared to other farmers in the district who were probably taking risks at that time, buying more land and growing their businesses.
He had been scarred by his experiences in the Depression - people who had borrowed money and lost their properties and so on.
Q: One of six children, you eventually took over the family farm in Katanning with your brother Allan. What did that experience teach you and do you still own that farm today?
A: It was a small farming property that my brother and I were pretty keen to expand when we got the opportunity.
In terms of farming when I was 14, that was what we did in those days.
All of our neighbour's kids drove headers and did all of that sort of stuff when they were very young and people left school at 15 and started working full-time on farms, so it wasn't unusual.
But it certainly was a great experience and taught me about responsibility.
Fortunately for me I was able to finish year 12 and also go to Muresk (Institute) and do my bachelor degree in agriculture.
That meant that instead of spending a lot of time socialising, like a lot of my mates were doing, I was travelling home to the farm almost every weekend to help get farm jobs done.
It led me to playing football for my home team rather than playing for Muresk, so it wasn't the end of the world - they were great times and I thoroughly enjoyed those years.
The 1980s were pretty tough times for mixed farmers with predominantly Merino/grain operations.
Towards the late 1980s we saw a bit of light at the end of the tunnel - the wool market boomed in the late 1980s only to crash in the early 1990s.
One thing I will never forget, which is very front of mind in the current environment, is going to the bank with our 1990 budget and being told we'd be paying 22.5 per cent interest on our overdraft.
We saw farming friends and neighbours who were forced out of farming at that time because of the extreme interest rates, so that experience affected my formative years.
My brother still farms the family property and expanded it from the early days.
I still own a farm which is part of that farming operation and I lease it to my brother.
We will always consider that home and still get up to the farm whenever we possibly can.
Q: Before getting into politics you were the vice-chairman of the Pastoralists and Graziers' Association (PGA) of WA western graingrowers committee from 2000 until 2008 and then its chairman from 2008 until 2011.Can you tell me about your involvement in the campaign to deregulate the wheat industry, which brought about the end of the Australian Wheat Board's monopoly?
A: Initially it was about the de-regulation of the WA grain pool.
Back in the day, barley and lupins were prescribed grains - they had to be surrendered to the grain pool for marketing.
Then, of course, along came canola which, by default, ended up in the hands of the grains pool as well.
We thought it would be better for farmers to have more marketing options than just surrendering our grain to one statutory marketer, so the grain pool was the first statutory organisation where we could test if their competency was of any great benefit to the industry.
Once the grain pool fell the wheat board was deemed the next target and that ultimately reigned for 10-plus years with the wheat market being deregulated in 2008 by then agriculture minister Tony Burke.
Q: You were a self-employed farmer from 1990 to 2013. Can you tell me about how some of your experiences during that period affected your political views?
A: The deregulation of the reserve price scheme for wool caused a massive crash in the wool price in 1990.
The Wool Corporation was levying growers up to 25pc to effectively buy their own wool and stockpile it until the market went up and, of course, the market didn't go up - the market kept on going down and the Wool Corporation became insolvent.
The Federal government had to step in and there was a five million bale stockpile, which was equivalent to one year's production at that time - so that's probably equivalent to two years' production today, as the wool industry is half of what it was 30 years ago.
That depressed the price for the next 10 years until they got rid of the wool stockpile.
I was in my twenties and early thirties when that happened, so it was the sort of experience where I was convinced that governments should get out of the way and let private enterprise get on with the business of business.
My experience with government intervention is that the results are often catastrophic and a lot of that goes back to my days with the PGA.
I think the main threat to agriculture going ahead is the interference by politicians, particularly as we move to these carbon emission reduction targets.
I was in a briefing several years ago with a CSIRO scientist who made the claim that grain production in southern Australia would fall by 30pc over the next 20 years, and that WA, because of the declining rainfall in the south west of WA, would fall by a greater extent.
I told them at the time that that prediction was wrong and since that advice was given WA initially produced a 18.5 million tonne record crop and then, just last year, a 22.5mt crop.
The problem with governments accepting advice like that from bureaucrats, who actually don't have a clue, is they then make decisions based on that advice.
For example, when governments are deciding to invest in transport infrastructure and the CSIRO has told them that the grain crop in WA will decrease significantly, that has consequences and we are seeing some of those consequences playing out at the moment where we have a record crop that we can't get to the port.
These are some of the political threats that I see facing agriculture.
There are very few people in parliament who have the sort of experience that I have in terms of practical onfarm experience and understanding of the broader industry.
I do have concerns for farming going forward that uninformed members of parliament will make decisions about agriculture which can't be sustained.
I think Western Australian grain farmers, in particular, are amazing and will certainly produce a 30mt crop within the next 10 years, as has been predicted by CBH.
When I see bureaucrats giving advice to the government which is plainly out of whack with what I see on the ground on a daily basis, that causes me great concern.
Q: What sort of job do you think the PGA and WAFarmers are doing in representing the interests of the agricultural industry? Do you think the organisations should join forces so that farmer resources are used more effectively?
A: The PGA do a good job of advocating for their philosophies of free markets and so on and I think WAFarmers do a good job of advocating for issues, such as retaining the live export trade and logistics in grain freight etc, which is their bread and butter.
I think there is room for two organisations.
It's a bit like football clubs where everyone thinks all the members of the two previous clubs will join up to become one and there will be twice as many people - but that never happens.
Some people drop off and you end up with one organisation that's only as strong as one of the two previous organisations.
I don't think there is anything to be gained by combining those two organisations - they have both served WA agriculture well for many years now.
Q: Can you tell me how your family's farming business has evolved over the years?
A: We've grown our farming business - we leased land and went farming east of Katanning at Nyabing to increase the amount of cropping in our business.
As the sheep market collapsed we started to grow canola in 1992/1993, which revolutionised our business.
That allowed us to grow a profitable break crop and all of a sudden the economics of cropping in the Great Southern became very attractive.
Lupins had never done particularly well on the duplex soils of the Great Southern, whereas we had phenomenal results in the early years with non-triazine tolerant canola which yielded incredibly well.
We went from having very little radish to having radish everywhere, so we then moved into grain with the triazine tolerant canolas which yielded some 25pc less, but at least you could control the weeds in them.
We always maintained a large sheep flock though as we always felt that sheep and wool were good for spreading risk.
Of course, not every paddock on the farm in the Great Southern is particularly arable - there are areas that are prone to frost and water logging, so having a good mix of livestock and multiple cropping on the better, more suitable cropping paddocks made a lot of sense.
As a farm business we did pretty well from the early to mid nineties through to today.
The past few years, in particular, have probably been the best few years for farming in the Great Southern that I've ever seen.
Q: You moved from Katanning to Albany in 2015 where you raised your four children with your wife, Tanya.
From your personal experience, what do you find to be the biggest challenge living in the regions?
A: Educating your kids is a huge challenge for all regional families to a greater or lesser extent.
When we moved to Albany, my oldest daughter was about to go into year 7 and we didn't want to send her to boarding school at that age.
With four kids, obviously the cost of sending all of them to boarding school would be pretty high, and that's a challenge that confronts a lot of rural and regional families.
Education of their kids is one thing I know a lot of parents won't compromise on, and it's why it's hard to attract tradesmen and mechanics and those sorts of people to live in country towns - where they don't know if their kids are going to get the best opportunity educationally.
The bigger regional centres in Albany and Esperance have a very good range of schools, both private and public, and I don't see that the bigger regional centres have the same issues and challenges as the smaller regional towns.
Quite frankly, I don't have an answer to it.
I think perhaps tax deductibility for staff or providing staff with a subsidy for educating their children is something that future governments could look at.
Education is certainly a challenge for younger families.
For older families, I would say access to healthcare is a major issue for people living across regional WA.
Later in life, people are looking for access to health services and, once again, that makes it difficult to live in a small country town where, if you're lucky, you might have one local GP and, if you aren't lucky, you might be relying on driving 100 kilometres to your nearest town to utilise their local GP and hospital.
Most people are now transferred through to the larger regional centres via ambulance.
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