Alice can you tell us about your project in three sentences or less?
Until now the tea tree oil industry has not had a dedicated extension project. The industry has invested in research and development for many years however, the absence of a dedicated program has hindered the adoption and associated benefits of industry research and development outcomes.
Enhanced extension for the Australian tea tree industry project will focus on tea tree crop nutrition, pest, weed and disease management. It is designed to provide an extension service to tea tree growers, oil producers and service providers which will accelerate the adoption of research and development with a focus on projects funded by AgriFutures Tea Tree Oil Program.
So what is extension and and why is extension important?
At Farmacist we take an industry-focused approach to extension to ensure we are addressing grower needs at the same time as using latest research and development advancements to integrate these into on-farm practices. We look holistically at farm management, careful not to silo solutions that may have an impact upon another aspect of the farming system. We investigate to better understand the individual opportunities and limitations of each farming system.
In theory extension is the process of empowering and enabling individuals, communities and industries to change. Practically this means helping farmers to understand the need for change and giving them the knowledge, techniques and skills to adopt new practices to improve their productivity and profitability.
Extension is important to foster innovation amongst growers. It allows growers to have access to the latest research, and more importantly recommendations, that can help them to best manage their farms and optimise profit. It also provides a safe and encouraging platform for peer-to-peer learning to communicate both successes and failures on farm.
How has your research career as an agronomist led you to leading/working on the tea tree oil extension program?
Over the last six years I have been working for Farmacist in North Queensland as an agronomist to develop nutrient plans for sugar cane growers. In this role I learnt the basics around plant nutrition, sampling techniques, soil science as well as the emerging technologies in agriculture including drone technology and satellite imagery.
Having grown up on a small tea tree farm and distillery I am so excited so be back in the industry again working on the extension program. My husband and I have started our own family and decided to return to Northern NSW. This project has given me the opportunity to move back to my hometown and has enabled me to have the best of both worlds.
How will this project benefit the tea tree oil industry?
While the AgriFutures Tea Tree Oil Program is relatively mature, until now the program hasn’t had a dedicated extension project or officers. This gap, has restricted the uptake and benefits of industry research and development outcomes.
With ATTIA and AgriFutures Australia’s support, this project will give the growers someone who is in their corner, so to speak. We’re focused on providing evidence-based advice, ensuring they are aware of and understand the recommendations from research findings, and demonstrate first-hand the opportunities via demonstration sites and workshops. I really hope the growers will find value in this service and make the most of the services that I can offer.
What’s the best piece of professional/career advice you’ve ever been given?
I’ve found many experienced industry professionals are quick to give advice to a young female starting out in the agricultural industry. But the most pertinent advice I have been give is that the grower always comes first. Often it is easy to be caught up in the politics of projects and things that happen behind the scenes, however if the grower is not getting benefit or value for money then things need to change to ensure they are put as the priority.
What are you most looking forward to learning from growers/producers?
I’m excited to learn more about the local soil types and how they can be managed as this will be extremely different to the soils I’m familiar with. Additionally, the local weather conditions and how it impacts farming operations will be a new challenge- and who better to learn about the weather from then a farmer. This role will also allow me to gain more insight into the supply and demand chain of tea tree so it will be good to get the growers perspective of this.
In three years time what do you hope the project will have achieved?
In three years time I am hoping that this project will have a lasting legacy for the industry. We plan on creating this through the development of a dedicated grower extension group that will be fostered throughout the duration of the project.
I hope I can make it easier for growers to access research that has already being completed and together we can identify the gaps in research to provide focus points moving forward.