A NEW Specialised Centre for Agricultural Mechanisation being constructed at Muresk Institute was "a good start" to providing sorely-needed industry-standard training in Western Australia.
That is the view of Farm Machinery & Industry Association executive officer John Henchy, who has headed an industry campaign for the past 12 or more years aimed at getting TAFE and dedicated agricultural education facilities to update courses to incorporate the technology now found on most farms.
Australian agriculture had "led the world" some 30 years ago in adopting precision agriculture and auto steer for farm machinery and since then refining the technology and further development, such as variable rate application and weed-only spraying, has driven continuous farm machinery development relying heavily on electronics, he pointed out.
But despite agriculture's adoption and reliance on these technologies, training on them "in Australia is limited and in WA has been virtually non-existent," Mr Henchy said.
Because apprentices and trainees turned out previously with certificates by TAFE and other educational organisations had not met industry requirements, some agricultural dealerships had implemented their own strategies for training of their apprentices and technicians.
As previously reported in Farm Weekly, examples of this are AFGRI Equipment Australia and Boekeman Machinery working with Central Regional TAFE Moora to influence the curriculum of some courses and to provide specific training to better relate to actual workplace activity.
McIntosh & Son southern group has gone a step further and set up its own registered training organisation as an alternative to TAFE training.
Mr Henchy was invited to attend last week's inspection of the ground works for the new centre with Education and Training Minister Sue Ellery.
"Credit must be given to the WA government for this $9.1 million initiative," Mr Henchy said.
"We have been seeking help to raise the standard of training for our technicians for years and it is refreshing to have a government that has listened and taken action to help fill the gaps.
"Precision agriculture first evolved some 30 years ago when Australia led the world with auto steer, since then technology has been the leading reason for new products and there would not be a successful farmer today who did not rely on precision ag to help refine his or her operation and help improve the bottom line.
"Variable rate technology has helped improve profitability by giving farmers the opportunity to apply inputs precisely where they are needed rather than apply the same rate all across the paddock.
"Spraying has taken a great leap forward with spraying only the weeds and many rigs have the ability to know where they have already sprayed and the boom section is switched off.
"Horticulture has had autonomous sprayers for a while now and the development of robots to pick fruit is a fact rather than fiction.
"But despite all these advances in technology, the training and higher education instrumentalities have not kept pace and we are way behind the rest of the world.
"In the US (United States of America) for example, there are at least 25 colleges at last count, which focus on precision ag education.
"In fact, there is one that we know of which offers a four-year degree course just on precision ag.
"We have a long way to go to raise the bar on training and education for the farm mechanisation industry, but Muresk will be a good start and has the potential for developing into a world class facility for future technology."
- Construction of the centre at Muresk was delayed 12 month when original builder, the Pindan group, collapsed last year.