Morawa students seeding into moisture for the first time ‘in years’

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WA College of Agriculture - Morawa Year 12 student Sean Hanlon, 17, and cropping technical officer Drew Fraser.
Camera IconWA College of Agriculture - Morawa Year 12 student Sean Hanlon, 17, and cropping technical officer Drew Fraser. Credit: Countryman

Tractors are red, the sky is blue, subsoil moisture levels are sweet and there’s a good crew of Year 12s seeding crops at WA College of Agriculture — Morawa this year.

The youngsters are seeding into moisture for the first time in their three-year stint at the college located 160km south-east of Geraldton and 350km north-east of Perth.

About 500ha of the college’s 2500ha program was in the ground when Countryman visited last Thursday, with Year 12 student Sean Hanlon happily sitting in the cab with cropping technical officer Drew Fraser.

The 17-year-old was learning how to use their new John Deere guidance system installed in the tractor cab last month — putting the new program to the test while seeding a 60ha paddock of oats for hay.

The John Deere GreenStar 3 display features a Star Fire 3000 guidance system with a touchscreen for precision agriculture.

Students kickstarted the school’s 2500ha seeding program on April 26, and have so far put in 500ha of predominantly oats and wheat.

This year’s rotation includes 1160ha of wheat, 1160ha of barley, 80ha of oats for hay and 100ha of lupins.

WA College of Agriculture - Morawa Year 12 student Sean Hanlon, 17, and cropping technical officer Drew Fraser.
Camera IconWA College of Agriculture - Morawa Year 12 student Sean Hanlon, 17, and cropping technical officer Drew Fraser. Credit: Countryman

Conditions have been perfect, with Mr Fraser and the students ecstatic to be seeding into moisture for the first time “in a long time” with 80mm falling at the farm during the past two weeks.

It is Mr Fraser’s third year at the college, meaning the Year 12s taking charge of seeding this year were in their first year at the school — for Year 10 to 12 students — when he first arrived.

“We are seeding without dust at the moment, which is just great because normally it is very dusty,” he said.

“It is a good start. The past two years were fairly average, cropping-wise. Things are looking much better this year.”

The students play a crucial part in getting the crop in and off, spending part of their school week in the paddock learning about seeding and harvest, and soil testing.

About 75 per cent of the grain is delivered to CBH Group and sold through Geraldton grain marketer Ten Tigers.

The remaining 25 per cent of the grain is kept on farm to be made into stock mixes to support the school’s feedlot and feed its 1150 sheep, 85 pigs and 22 cattle.

The sheep flock includes 900 Merino ewes, 250 first-cross Border Leicester and Merino ewes, 85 pigs and 22 Angus and Gelbveih cattle.

Most of the money made through grain sales is placed into the Agricultural Education Farm Provisions Trust — which is 100 per cent generated by student-driven commercial productivity at school sites in Cunderdin, Denmark, Harvey, Morawa, Narrogin and Esperance SHS Farm Training Centre.

The rest of the income is used to fund ongoing operations at the school’s farm.

Year 10s are allowed to observe at seeding time, checking the bins, sitting in the tractor and learning about the machinery.

By Year 11, the students are able to take control of the tractor — with a technical officer alongside — while the Year 12s are regularly spotted driving with supervision.

It is a good start. The past two years were fairly average, cropping-wise. Things are looking much better this year.

Drew Fraser

For Sean, this means getting his head around the new GPS system installed this month after the school swapped from a CASE IH system to John Deere.

He hopes to spend one day a week on the tractor for the next few weeks and was last week starting at about 9am and going right up until 4pm.

Originally from Perth, Sean is part of a growing number of students choosing to study at WA’s agricultural colleges.

He is studying a Certificate II in Engineering and both Certificate II and III in Agriculture, while completing core Maths and English, plant production and animal production.

It was a push from family friends that encouraged him to do a short trial at WA College of Agriculture — Morawa, and he found he really liked it.

With a brother working as a netting contractor for horticulture properties in the Manjimup area, Sean hopes to study agronomy and soil science at university.

“The time here (at Morawa) will help me have an easier understanding of plants, and soil testing... it will give me some extra pointers for later study,” he said.

Sean said the school had been a “real mess” after cyclone Seroja tore through on April 19, with trees littered across the paddocks.

But he said students escaped most of the clean-up because they were on school holidays.

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