Beginning life on a small cattle property, Hannah Russell never thought she would be fortunate enough to work in such a diverse and collaborative sugar industry. However, after finishing a bachelor’s degree in Applied Science in 2015, she gained experience in Bundaberg Sugar’s laboratory before branching out to the other side of sugar – the growers.
Prior to beginning the graduate program through the Queensland Farmer’s Federation (QFF), Hannah had very limited knowledge of the world of extension. Sugar Research Australia (SRA), a leading research, development and adoption (RD&A) organisation, provided a place for Hannah in her hometown of Bundaberg. She was able to work with an experienced team to encourage growers to modify or change farming practices to improve their productivity, profitability and sustainability.
‘I have been able to work with a fantastic team here in the southern region, including those at SRA, CANEGROWERS, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Burnett Mary Regional Group (BMRG) , productivity services, the millers, and of course the growers themselves,’ said Hannah. ‘Everyone collaborates so well to share information and support.’
Through funding by the Australian Government’s Reef Water Quality Program via BMRG, Hannah coordinated and delivered extension events based on the use of electromagnetic (EM) and elevation mapping for block characterisation. The maps generated from EM surveys, combined with in-field ground truthing, allow growers to better understand their block and why areas may be performing less than optimally.
‘Thanks to innovative growers in the region, I was able to demonstrate the capability of the technology in-field, identify what impediments the block had and work with the commercial survey providers to suggest a solution. Being able to prescribe variable rate gypsum to combat sodic soils or creating drainage plans not only has positive benefits for the grower but also for water quality.’
The QFF graduate program has also offered Hannah many opportunities for training in both practical components and professional development. For example, Hannah, with several other graduates, attended the Australasia-Pacific Extension Network (APEN) Conference in September 2019 where extension techniques, strategies and experiences were shared from people all over Australia and overseas.
Currently, Hannah is working in conjunction with James Ogden-Brown (SRA), Greg Butler (South Australian No Till Farmers Association) and growers to promote the benefits of minimum tillage through the use of AquaTill. This implement utilises a 50,000psi waterjet to slice cleanly through trash, with options to apply inputs at the required depth or, with future modifications, plant fallow crops into the soil through the trash layer, retaining groundcover and improving soil health.
Hannah has also published media on topics such as irrigation techniques, pump considerations and AquaTill. Four videos are found on YouTube through the Australian Cane Learning Centre and an article will be published in the 2020 Autumn edition of SRA’s CaneConnection.
‘The Agricultural Extension Traineeship with QFF has opened many avenues for me. It’s been a fantastic opportunity to experience first-hand the challenges facing sugarcane growers and water quality. I look forward to continuing to work in this field in the future, and fully recommend the program to any graduate looking for a fulfilling career in an outstanding industry,’ Hannah stated.
The two Agriculture Extension Work Placement Programs are funded by the partnership between the Australian Government’s Reef Trust and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, and the Queensland Government Reef Water Quality Program.