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    Murra Warra farmer David Jochinke will finish up as VFF president.

AgLife: ‘Thick skin and sharp elbows’ keep David Jochinke true to his ideals


The Wimmera’s David Jochinke hopes to lend a hand and continue advocating for regional Victoria even after his time as Victorian Farmers Federation president comes to a close. 

The third generation farmer, based at Murra Warra, north of Horsham, will call time on a four-year run in the top job at the end of the year. 

The VFF closed its nominations for its 2020 election earlier this month and plans to announce all candidates on Wednesday next week.

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Mr Jochinke, 43, has described his time as president as a ‘humbling’ experience and said he hoped the next generation of leaders who populated the board could help to revolutionise the representative body. 

He said he looked forward to a ‘slightly’ more relaxed harvest this season as he stood down from the role after what he labelled his toughest year in the job in 2020.   

“I’m definitely going to enjoy harvest and hopefully get all the grain into the bin successfully,” he said. 

“I might suffer some relevance deprivation for a while once it’s all said and done. But I do think there will be opportunities for me to be involved both in agriculture and in trying to help the regional community achieve prosperity. I’m still relatively young and I’ve got plenty to give.” 

During his two terms as president, Mr Jochinke has been a voice for the Victorian agriculture sector during drought, floods, a dairy crisis, avian influenza and helping farmers adapt to a changing climate.

But he said nothing, so far, had compared to the ‘chaos’ that would arise from the COVID-19 pandemic.  

“I’ve had more people distressed – I’ve had more phone calls from farmers who are absolutely at their wits’ end than any other time while I’ve been in this role,” he said. 

“Water is definitely an emotional topic, but COVID has eclipsed even that. In my busiest period I had a week of almost 60 phone calls a day.

“I’m glad we’re able to give some clarity in an environment when there’s very little, but sometimes all I can do is listen and empathise with the farmers. That’s pretty tough when you don’t have a solution. They need something from industry and when I can’t deliver or do any more for them, it’s quite confronting.” 

Mr Jochinke said his parents and grandparents were also VFF members. 

He first made the move to an advocacy role in agriculture in his late teens and in 1997, he joined the Wallup VFF branch. 

“From those first meetings I became delegate for the region,” he said. “You get to meet all the faces who were shaping the industry, from CEOs to politicians to managing directors of different organisations.”

Mr Jochinke said his time at Wallup led to being elected as the group’s last VFF treasurer and chair of the finance committee as well as vice-president from 2012 to 2016.

But there was one man he credits with helping shape his dedication for making change in the industry.

In his early days at Wallup, he shadowed one of the key grain representatives in the area at the time, Rob McRae. 

“I call Rob my VFF dad because he took me under his wing when we first started. He was hugely influential for my pathway,” he said. 

“With policy, he showed me that you’ve got to make sure you don’t get lost in the battles, but you remember what the objective is.

“The machinery of government and wheels of industry can take a lot of time to turn to get the result you’re looking for, but as long as you keep applying pressure in the right spot and remain positive and engaged, things do spin your way, eventually.

Murra Warra farmer David Jochinke will finish up as VFF president.

“Rob taught me a lot about patience.

“And I was always told you need thick skin and sharp elbows, which is extremely true.” 

While his time is coming to a close as a leader of the VFF, Mr Jochinke said he was still invested in seeing the organisation thrive.  

He said the past few years as president had highlighted a need for the organisation to adapt to the way agriculture was continually transforming in a modern age. 

“The organisation needs to change, it needs to refresh, it needs to modernise. We need to appeal more to the next generation of farmers and we need to be more adaptable and flexible in our engagement mechanisms,” he said. 

“The reality is the industry has moved a lot, but the structure of the organisation hasn’t necessarily kept pace. It will be a challenge for whoever comes next to make those changes – I feel disappointed that I wasn’t able to lead more on that front.”

Mr Jochinke said he owed his time as president to the farmers and people who supported him all the way.  

“My story has been one of having opportunities presented and taking them up and just having a go,” he said.

“Being a representative in agriculture is a team sport. I’m only as good as the people who stand with me and I’ve been very fortunate to have some excellent people who don’t necessarily get the spotlight, but people who supported the process from the start.” 

The entire October 28, 2020 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!

The entire October 28, 2020 edition of AgLife is available online. READ IT HERE!