Three TFGA presidents talk about the body's key achievements

With almost 15 years of combined stewardship between them, three presidents gathered to swap stories ahead of the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association 70th anniversary celebrations this month.

Immediate past president David Gatenby, who held the position between 2009 and 2013, and Roger Swain, who was TFGA president between 2005 and 2009, met incumbent president Wayne Johnston, who has held the role since 2013, at TFGA House.

The three farmers talked shop under the gaze of the association’s former presidents, discussing the achievements that set Tasmania’s agricultural community up for success, and the difficulties of trying to please all stakeholders.

“We are farmers ourselves. I think we’ve got a fair credibility when we actually stand up in front of farmers. We might not agree with them and they might not agree with us, but we’re working and supporting all of Tasmanian agriculture,” Mr Johnston said.

Natural vegetation regulation, Tasmanian Irrigation, Meander Dam and forestry were listed as key points in the body’s advocacy.

However, the biggest issues they each faced while in the role – fire, flood and drought – were out of their control.

Mr Swain pointed out that while natural disasters could not be controlled, it was how the association responded that proved its worth.

“This organisation comes into play around those, in supporting farmers through them and understanding what’s required as support from local, state and federal government,” he said.

“We’re also being quite strategic and forward thinking to recognise what it is that would be really good for the farming community if we can get that in place.”

Mr Gatenby joined the association in the late 1980s when the reserve price system was in place and he said he watched as it turned into a “debacle” for wool producers.

“It wasn’t a good system because farmers got greedy and forgot about the customer,” he said.

“I still remember sitting in this room when the wool council committee wanted to take the reserve price scheme to 1100 cents. The whole thing fell over eventually.”

The irrigation access that has changed Tasmania’s farming landscape was the prompt for Mr Johnston to join the association.

“As soon as Jim Bacon and Paul Lennon saw what [Meander Dam] was going to do in this particular area, there were other farmers around the state thinking they could put up their proposals and that led to the formation of Tasmanian Irrigation,” Mr Johnston said.

As the association prepares for the 70th anniversary dinner on August 17 at Country Club Tasmania, Mr Johnston reflected on the fact that while some things changed, much stayed the same.

“I got a farmer representation newsletter from 1948 which listed the issues that were the forefront for farmers. That was: Bass Strait Freight, the cost of fuel, but it wasn’t the cost of power back then,” Mr Johnston said.

“It was just after the war and it said ‘we want you to be a member of this organisation because we’re fighting for these things on your behalf’. The issues still carry on.”

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