CLOSING the country-city divide, reducing the skills shortage in the agricultural industry, keeping people on the land and promoting agriculture in general are some of the key issues for new WAFarmers president, Trevor deLandgrafft.
The Newdegate farmer, who has been the organisation’s senior vice-president for several years, replaces Colin Nicholl, who has retired at the end of his four-year term to return to the three properties his family runs near Hyden.
In his new role Mr deLandgrafft will face many ongoing issues – the State Government’s environmental legislation, attempts to get multi-peril crop insurance policies introduced, salinity, the battle to communicate more effectively with young WA-Farmers members and, perhaps, the merger of WAFarmers with the Pastoralists and Graziers Association of WA.
Mr deLandgrafft said the city-country divide was growing.
“We have to engender the support of our city cousins,” he said.
One of the tools at his disposal to close the divide is employment.
Agriculture is the largest single employer in WA, accounting for more than 10 per cent of the general population.
However, the industry also faces a skills shortage.
“People who have the affinity with a rural setting and can operate the activities of a farm are in high demand,” Mr deLandgrafft said.
“Traditionally, farmers have been their own labour. But as farms get larger through rationalisation they are relying more and more on staff.”
Farm machinery operators and shearers are also in demand.
Mr deLandgrafft said demand was high for machinery operators who could operate machinery such as tractors and seeders in the main planting months of May and June. A similar demand exists during harvest, although some of that is for truck drivers to cart the crop. Perth contractors have filled that need for many years.
There is also the problem of keeping young people on the farms.
“The depopulation of rural areas is a curse,” Mr deLandgrafft said.
“The things that don’t help are government cutbacks on essential services. Roads are a real issue.”
Mr deLandgrafft said WAFarmers was trying to become registered as a rural training organisation.
“If we can lift the profile of agriculture as a professional industry it will make it more sustainable,” he said.
Mr deLandgrafft acknowledged there was a lot the industry could do to help itself.
“We have a lot of control over most of the issues in front of us,” he said.
“We can make sure the conditions out there are up to scratch.
“City people often don’t know about the good conditions they’ll experience in the country.
“Fly-in fly-out mining doesn’t give anywhere near the lifestyle and stable employment in a country setting.”
Generational change is another issue organisations such as WAFarmers will have to deal with.
Mr deLandgrafft said his appointment was a step in that direction, as he was of a younger generation than his predecessor.
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