Where to for Tassie farms?​ | OPINION

Where to for Tassie farms?​ | OPINION


Opinion
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The TFGA is on the right track. It hasn't always been, says Dr Mike Walker.

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OPINION

PATH: The Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association, this year celebrating its 70th anniversary, continues to help guide the direction of Tasmanian agriculture.

PATH: The Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association, this year celebrating its 70th anniversary, continues to help guide the direction of Tasmanian agriculture.

WHERE to for Tasmanian agriculture?

This sort of question is asked with monotonous regularity, but bear with me, there’s good reason this time, which is a pleasant change

The reason? It’s the 70th anniversary of the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association (TFGA).

My memory told me the original title was the Tasmanian Farmers Federation (TFF), so I checked with Kirsten Woolley, the TFGA communications manager. She was most helpful.

My memory was right – the TFF became incorporated under the Companies Act on 18 August 1948, and the present TFGA title wasn’t adopted until 1980, 32 years later, when it merged with the Tasmanian Farmers, Stockowners and Orchardists Association, so in one sense we ought to be looking forward to the 40th anniversary in 2018.

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Just me being my usual picky self, but I have to say at times I get bewildered by the plethora of industry associations which come and go and not with an obvious purpose.

Before we go “where to?”, it will be instructive to go “where from?”.

I have to say that doing this has left me with mixed feelings.

I vividly remember the first time I entered the TFGA sacred shrine at Cimitiere Street in Launceston about 30 years ago.

Vegetable farmers were at the bottom of the status heap. They were often referred to as the Vegetable Mafiosi.

I sensed as soon as I did this, this is what to expect (as you do when you go into a school for the first time).

It wasn’t said but it was obvious that I wasn’t particularly welcome. The office staff had more important things to do than waste time on a blow-in.

At that time, there was a clear distinction between farmers and graziers, and, more importantly, the different types of farmer.

Vegetable farmers were at the bottom of the status heap.

They were often referred to as the Vegetable Mafiosi.

It was because of this that they linked with their mainland counterparts to form Australian United Fresh (AUF) – I was asked to chair the Tasmanian branch.

From a rank and file member’s perspective, it was at its worst 30 years ago, and has had its up and downs since then.

Those distinctions still exist.

Having animals in the mix still gives more status.

In any organisation you have elected members supported by “the office”.

The TFGA office has had a chequered career, to say the least.

From a rank and file member’s perspective, it was at its worst 30 years ago, and has had its up and downs since then.

It’s definitely on an “up” right now.

As I’ve said in previous columns, the present CEO, Peter Skillern deserves to be given all credit for doing an excellent job. As it says on the TFGA website:

“Peter has had an extensive career in banking and senior managerial roles and specialises in finance and corporate governance.”

“He has managed a group of family companies involved in construction, property development and agriculture.

“In a wide-ranging career, he has also held executive posts with both Environment Tasmania and the Liberal Party.”

It’s the last sentence which intrigues me most. It shows that he has had experience on both sides of the fence, which is unusual, and increases my respect for him.

He has a very effective president in Wayne Johnston.

Thirteen years ago, Tasmanian farmers drove a tractor fleet to Canberra to campaign for stronger labelling laws so consumers knew where their produce came from.

So, where to from here? 

It’s been said ad nauseam that biosecurity is by far the most important issue but it needs to be said constantly – the TFGA will soon present the Tasmanian Government with its ideas on how to make the State safer.

The next one is truth in labelling.

You may recall me giving the example of buckwheat, when three times as much buckwheat labelled “Product of Tasmania” was sold as was actually grown here (it all came from NSW).

Thirteen years ago, Tasmanian farmers drove a tractor fleet to Canberra to campaign for stronger labelling laws so consumers knew where their produce came from.

Ten years ago, not much had happened, but today the packaging tells you how much Australian content there is (let’s hope the buckwheat example is not being repeated).

I could go on, but I’ll leave it at that and keep you informed on these two issues as time goes by.

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