Farmers plea for local government to give agriculture equal footing

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
Forest Grove farmer Sam Weightman and Willandra stud co-principal Peter Cowcher.
Camera IconForest Grove farmer Sam Weightman and Willandra stud co-principal Peter Cowcher. Credit: Bob Garnant/Countryman

The region’s leading farmers have asked the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River to take the local agricultural industry as seriously as it takes concerns about the environment.

Farmers including Matt Nield from the South West Growers Group spoke at last week’s meeting to address concerns raised during last month’s electors meeting where residents demanded greater action on a raft of issues affecting primary industry.

Wednesday’s meeting saw councillors commit shire officers to develop a long-overdue policy for the agricultural sector after ratepayers complained farmers were coming second to environmental concerns in the shire’s draft local planning scheme.

Mr Nield said the SWGG wanted to be the local government’s partner in all consultation matters affecting producers.

“People talk of the city and regional disconnect,” he said.

“Many primary producers feel this disconnect is evident within the shire from some community members, community groups and staff within the shire.”

Farm owner Erin Hutton pointed to recent council debate about including “biodiversity loss” as a key focus for the shire’s new chief executive when agriculture didn’t rate a mention.

Councillors later endorsed the group as a key stakeholder in all future considerations of rural matters and instructed officers to produce the economic agriculture policy.

While farmers applauded the council committing to the policy development, concerns were still high about plans to rescind the “priority agriculture” zone in the new planning scheme, replacing it with a general rural zoning.

Forest Grove farmers Brad Noakes and Sam Weightman said farmers wanted a chance to balance sustainability with primary industry.

Mr Noakes said there was a risk agriculture was being taken for granted.

“Don’t be fooled into thinking food security is not an issue,” he said.

“The priority agriculture zoning is not broken, so please don’t fix it.

“This shire is blessed with climate and conditions like possibly nowhere else in the State, if not the world, making the local farmland unique and irreplaceable.”

Farmers noted only a third of the milk consumed in WA was produced in the State, with the Scott River area a key source.

Councillors unanimously backed the amended recommendations.

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