Ongerup gains from crop program

Jenne BrammerThe West Australian
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Ongerup Community Development Group has worked hard for a decade to buy the 400ha block which is at the centre of its community cropping program.

Over that time, money raised from the program has also managed to buy two small homes for the town, and provide funding toward the opening of Yongergnow Australian Malleefowl Centre.

The land, called Matty's Lakes Block, has also been used as an avenue for other groups to raise funds.

OCDG Treasurer Sandy Vaux said the Ongerup community cropping program started about 2000-2002, when the group first leased a few paddocks from some local farmers and planted wheat and barley crops over two seasons.

Proceeds from the crop year provided the deposit to buy the 400ha block, of which 130ha is arable.

"We took out a Treasury loan though the Gnowangerup Shire," Mrs Vaux said.

"We had to pay back $12,000 a year, which was very tight at times.

"It was hard in the beginning, we didn't have great seasons and we really had to scrape around to get the $12,000 each year to meet the repayments.

"But as of 2014, we now own the land, so all profits can be put back into the community projects."

Any spare cash after repayments over past years has been put to good use.

Among the bigger achievements, the OCDG has used proceeds towards funding new rental housing in the town - seen as critical to being able to attract new families to live in the area.

The two three-bedroom transportable homes were built in 2005, with rent meeting subsequent repayments.

Funding has also gone towards helping to establish the well-known Yongergnow Australian Malleefowl Centre, which opened its doors in 2007 to focus on the conservation of the endangered malleefowl and its habitat.

Mrs Vaux said the community cropping block was also an avenue for other groups to raise funds

The local football club, which no longer operates, and the school's P&C have on several occasions leased the land from the OCDG to raise their own funds.

For the 2015 season, the land was leased by a family trust.

The crop planted on the land last year was barley.

Unfortunately, a lack of finishing rains means yields throughout the district have been variable and barley has rarely met malt grade.

Mrs Vaux said the arable land had also been used in the past to run sheep.

The sheep enterprise initially started as trials with the Department of Agriculture and Food, then as a project in its own right.

She said sheep were sold in early 2015 and the land has been used for cropping since.

The sheep flock started with 450 ewes in 2006 and size increased to almost 1000 head.

The wool and lambs sales have been a greater earner than the cropping, but required a larger volunteer input and agistment was needed when the community block was cropped.

OCDG president Graeme Savage said each year the structure of the cropping program, and its end goals would vary.

"If the OCDG is putting in its own crop, sometimes it's a case of people being very generous and volunteering their time and machinery," he said.

"Other times we pay out costs to get contractors to do the work," he said. The land available to the OCDG for its cropping program has grown in recent years since the closure of the Gnowangerup Agricultural College several years ago.

The OCDG can lease a further 150ha of land from the Education Department to expand the program further.

Mrs Vaux said for the 2016 season it was likely the OCDG would do its own fundraising via the community cropping program.

Proceeds would hopefully be used toward getting a further one or two family-sized rental properties established in the town.

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