A launchpad for training and education in the space of precision agriculture.
That is what agricultural machinery industry stalwart and local legend John Henchy envisaged for the future of the Muresk Institute's new Agriculture Machinery Training Centre - a centre that many say would not exist without his volunteered time and dedication.
Sadly, Mr Henchy lost his short battle with pancreatic cancer just days before the official opening of the upgraded $10.3 million training facility in Northam.
A much-loved and well respected figure in the agricultural industry, Mr Henchy and his family and friends had been left stunned by the terminal diagnosis provided to him just seven weeks earlier.
The executive officer of the Farming Machinery and Industry Association (FM&IA) of WA for the past 16 years, Mr Henchy is survived by his wife Claire, their two daughters and their young families.
Speaking to Farm Weekly during a gathering of industry representatives at the centre's official opening, colleague and FM & IA committee member Tim Boekeman said Mr Henchy had a grand passion for helping to develop young people wishing to carve out a career in the agricultural machinery and precision agriculture industries.
"John was a big driver of this facility right from the early days, he could see there was going to be some real benefit in having a centralised training facility and when Muresk came on the radar he really championed the idea of getting this off the ground," Mr Boekeman said.
"John's other love was precision agriculture, which is now at the forefront of what we do, and he really wanted to see that become a real icon of what this centre is all about.
"He hoped this facility would also cater for precision agriculture and, while that hasn't happened as yet, we also hope it's what the centre might be used for in the future as well."
In the days leading up to the centre's official opening, Mr Henchy had sent a speech to his colleagues in which he expressed the potential for a university level degree in precision agriculture to be offered at the training centre in the future, emulating some of the four year degrees that are on offer in the United States.
With the highest level of training at the Muresk Institute being a Certificate III in Agricultural Mechanical Technology provided through Central Regional TAFE, Mr Henchy said the challenge ahead was to raise the standard of teaching.
"When this venture was envisaged, we were always to be told that the training would be done within the TAFE system but regrettably the standard we are looking for is yet to be achieved," Mr Henchy wrote.
"This is illustrated in part by two major dealerships developing their own RTO's or academies because they believe the TAFE offering is inadequate to cater for this latest technology.
"So the challenge is there for TAFE and they know that industry is right there to help with this development and delivery.
"This has actually already been illustrated by manufacturers that have delivered their own technical training so far and have exposed the current cohort of students to their product offerings."
In his speech, Mr Henchy illustrated his hope that the centre was "only the start of precision agriculture training in WA" and the potential for the WA to lead the country in the field of precision training and education.
Mr Henchy's contribution to the formation and development of the new training centre was acknowledged by WA Premier Roger Cook and Training Minister Simone McGurk at the official opening, with the announcement that a classroom and training workshop will be named in his honour.
"John Henchy was a stalwart for the FM & IA of WA and has played an important part in terms of the industry reference group which fed into the design and requirements of this particular facility...we are all absolutely indebted to his service here at Muresk," Mr Cook said.
Muresk Institute general manager Andrew Orford said Mr Henchy would regularly volunteer his time to support the careers of the younger generation at the institute.
"John was one of the first people I met when I started here at Muresk and when we had schools visiting, he'd always drive out to talk to students about the exciting careers in precision agriculture," Mr Orford said.
"He was an incredibly passionate person who meant a lot to a lot of people and he will be so very missed."
Nufab Industries managing director Peter Nunn and FM & IA former president Alan Fisher said the training centre was one of the legacies their colleague had left behind and that Mr Henchy was held in "incredibly high regard" by the FM & IA and those working in the industry.
"We had organised a final wish ambulance to bring John here today, but unfortunately he passed before that could happen," Mr Nunn said.
"However we know that his family plans to make the trip out here soon to have a guided tour of the new facilities."
To honour Mr Henchy, the FM & IA plans to sponsor the 'John Henchy Student of Excellence' award, which will be provided to a Muresk student who meets Mr Henchy's values of "respect, reliability, positive attitude and work ethic" at the organisation's AGM each year.
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