The potential for Western Australia’s agricultural industry to double its production by 2025 is being hindered by severe funding and staffing cuts at the state’s most critical industry agency, according to WAFarmers.
Speaking on the first of six WAFarmers Policy Priorities for the State Election, Senior Vice President Lyn Slade said WAFarmers needs to be involved in the process of creating a stronger and reinvigorated Department of Agriculture and Food WA (DAFWA).
“Despite WA’s agricultural industry being worth $8.6 billion in farm gate value and approximately $20 billion in post gate value through the supply chain, DAFWA has seen severe cuts in staffing and funding in recent years,” Mrs Slade said.
“The department is charged with providing services to industry in an effort to support and drive the agrifood sector, but despite the ever-increasing strength of agriculture in WA, under-resourcing has seen DAFWA fall into a state of decline.
“In 2007 the department hosted 1,581 FTE, while there were only 965 FTE in 2016. Additionally, DAFWA receives approximately $160 million per annum through consolidated revenue allocation, which only allows the department to provide minimal services to the industry.
“The $350 million funding top-up through Royalties for Regions is an acknowledgement from the State Government that the department is under-resourced, however the impact of the decline in consolidated revenue has not been offset by this funding allocation.
“The department has been pared to the bone – these severe cuts mean the department can’t currently perform its key functions of policy, regulation and development and ensuring a safe and secure food production sector.
“It also means its former position as a go-to agency for university graduates and professionals seeking employment, and farmers seeking impartial information and advice has been lost.”
Mrs Slade said WA needed a strong department with a capacity to drive and steer growth in productivity by supporting and introducing innovation and opportunity whilst providing current data and research.
“Agriculture is a sector that brings real export dollar returns to the state,” she said.
“The farm gate value has risen from $5.4 billion to $8.6 billion in four years and the current State Government has acknowledged that this could potentially double by 2025, so it really is a safe industry for taxpayer dollars to go in to.
“To support this and many of the recommendations made in last year’s Future Directions for DAFWA report, WAFarmers needs to be consulted and involved in establishing a long term plan for the minimum retention of funding and staffing levels.
“WAFarmers would see DAFWA hold the staff at 1,000 FTE as an absolute minimum with an aim to attract the new generation of agricultural experts, an absolute minimum current level of $160 million funding, a DAFWA budget reliant on consolidated revenue, and have DAFWA manage its own projects by not relying on Royalties for Regions.
“We believe these actions would help ensure the longevity of the department and the strength of the industry.”