THE Victorian Farmers Federation has advocated for farmers and rural Victorians for 40 years.
When the VFF was first founded in 1979 there were numerous small branches across the Wimmera - including Rupanyup, Wallup and Horsham.
Members would take advocacy issues to the Wimmera district council, which would then pass issues onto the state branch.
Now the Wimmera branch has a membership that ranges from Balmoral to Rupanyup, and from Hopetoun to the South Australian border.
Lubeck farmer Graeme Maher stepped into the role of Wimmera branch president this year. He got his first taste of the VFF when he became Wimmera branch secretary at the age of 25.
"It was an introduction into agri-politics and a way to give back to the community," he said.
"It's interesting to see what's happening with (animal activist group) Aussie Farms and working out what we can do with groups like that. Their premise is to save animals, but some of their actions are not inclined that way," he said.
"In certain areas, when problems arise - such as the rural rates issue in Ararat council - they had more people become involved in their VFF branch.
"Our membership is going down, but so is the number of farmers. Farms keep getting bigger and buying out the neighbours - that's just part of the system we're in.
"We're trying to help people work their way through issues and make things more suitable for long-term farming enterprises. Being a member helps people stay in touch with what's going on and it gives them a voice."
Murra Warra farmer David Jochinke has been VFF president since 2016. He is also the National Farmers Federation vice president.
He became involved with the federation at the age of 18.
"I went to my first meeting and left as the branch's treasurer-secretary," he said.
Mr Jochinke said the federation prided itself on advocating on a wide range of issues for its members.
"We've always been quite strong on some of the fundamentals - such as making sure we have good native vegetation legislation and that we hold councils to account with service delivery," he said.
"We've also had a lot of conversations around standards such as animal welfare, quality stamps for grains, chemical usage, road infrastructure and even silo opening times.
"For every one thing that I've managed to get an outcome for, there are others that haven't hit the mark and that's not for a lack of trying. A lot of issues take a long time to shift.
"One of my greatest challenges is how much time it takes for things to happen. The political machine to get legislation changed or funding, and even within industry itself, takes a lot of time.
"Even if you know a topic intrinsically, you have to explain to others why it's important. Some of the issues we deal with are unpalatable and are at odds with the popular view.
"The days of agriculture being an easy occupation are well behind us and there's a lot more legislation and compliance that we have to meet. Community expectations have never been higher.
"As farms get larger we tend to operate as a singular unit - we don't share as much equipment as we used to, and don't help each other out as much. Getting a united and clear voice can be a challenge especially with fewer of us around."
Mr Jochinke said he hoped his time as president would leave a lasting impact.
"When I came into the role, I said I wanted to wear out a ute. I have put in more than 200,000 kilometeres in my ute over the last three-and-a-half years. I just hope that my time has made a difference of pushing things in the right direction," he said.
"One of the things we're working on at the moment is fully digitising our engagement so every member in the state can have feedback on policies to make sure their voice is heard. That way, whoever (is next president) will be able to drive that engagement.
"There's no other organisation that stands up for the whole of agriculture and is solely for agriculture. If you love us or hate us, that's your opinion. At the end of the day, we're the only ones. Without our members willing to take on leadership roles in the VFF, agriculture would be in a far worse position."
Wallup farmer Daniel Keam has been a VFF member for 20 years and was Wimmera branch president between 2014 and 2018.
"They were looking for a president when David Jochinke became the state president, so that's how I fell into the position. I was always interested in being more involved," he said.
"Our branch has produced many people who have gone on to higher roles - David (Jochinke) of course, but Rob McRae was a grains councillor for many years. We're really lucky to have people like that."
Mr Keam said he was proud of the changes the branch achieved during the Wimmera-wide rural council rates debate last year.
"Rates has been a big issue in recent times and it will be for a long time. The rural ratepayers were funding the councils. Others were paying nowhere near as much as we were and they were getting a whole lot more benefits," he said.
"It was good to see farmers band together on the issue. It was great to see councils like Yarriambiack, West Wimmera, Hindmarsh and Northern Grampians - which are heavily reliant on agriculture - come up with reasonable results.
"Everyone knows the rating system is broken and nobody has been able to come up with a fair and equitable one. It's going to be an ongoing issue for years.
"I think we got a lot more members out of it and there was a lot more interest from our existing members. A lot of people who might have been wondering what the VFF did, that big win showed them."
He sad it was important now more than ever for farmers to be involved with the VFF.
"We're attacked about chemical use and how we allegedly treat our animals ... whichever door you open, there seems to be someone wanting to have a go at you," he said.
"Advocacy is really important to make sure farmers have the right to farm. A lot of farmers out there are quite soft spoken, so they're the people we try to represent and they need a voice."
Former VFF Grains Group president and Crymelon farmer Ross Johns has been involved with the VFF since the mid-80s.
"It's a very co-operative way of achieving better outcomes for the community. When farmers are more successful, the community is more successful and everyone benefits," he said.
Mr Johns was Grains Group president for three years, retiring from the role this year.
"The most successful thing we achieved when I was president of the grains group was getting road trains and B-triples access into the drought areas in NSW, which helped both NSW and Victorian farmers. It was a massive achievement," he said.
"That was a national issue. What happens often is that state interests overcome the national interests. In this particular set of circumstances, we were able to get everyone to agree.
"Trade agreements are usually handled by the NFF, but the VFF has a lot of input into those issues, too. We've got to make all of our trade and markets more efficient and transparent."
Mr Johns encouraged farmers to join the federation.
"It's extremely important to have the organisation to protect the interests of rural people and farmers. The individuals come and go, but the organisation continues to make difference," he said.
"The challenge is that we have governments that are run out of very large cities, and we've got rural areas and farmers that are becoming fewer in numbers.
"The fewer we become, the more important it is that we can step forward with a single voice and voice our concerns to try to get benefits for regional Victoria. The VFF is likely to continue and be prosperous well into the future."
While you're with us, you can now receive updates straight to your inbox twice weekly from the Wimmera Mail-Times. To make sure you're up-to-date with all the news from across the Wimmera, sign up below.