If you told 26-year-old environmental science graduate Mika Rowston a year ago, that he would be driving a four-wheeler around a flooded cane paddock to collect water samples in the middle of North Queensland, he wouldn’t have believed you. That’s just one of the opportunities he has experienced by being part of the Queensland Farmers’ Federation’s (QFF) Agricultural Extension Work Placement Program.
Through the QFF program, Mika has had the opportunity of being placed with agronomic consulting company Farmacist in the Burdekin region, as a Graduate Extension Agronomist. After nine months of on-the-job training, mentoring and work experience, he believes he has been equipped with the skills and knowledge to jump start his career in the field of agronomy and extension.
Prior to his commencement at Farmacist, Mika was employed by a telecommunications cabling company, as a specialist technician, 15 hours south in his home city on the Gold Coast. His previous position is a far-cry from his current role, supporting cane growers in the Burdekin reef catchment with their chemical, nutrient and soil management.
Upon attending the Reef Extension Think Tank in Townsville in his first week in the job, Mika was given the chance to spear-head Project NEW, which was funded through the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. The project aimed at developing and enhancing collaboration and building connections between young extension professionals in the reef space. Several events have been held as a result of Project NEW, including a networking event for extension officers and also a charity scavenger hunt. Mika believes that cooperation and effective communication amongst organisations is essential if the common goal of increasing the reef’s resilience is to be realised.
Mika is involved in several large-scale projects, most notably, Project Bluewater.
“Project Bluewater is an on-the-ground extension project that supports cane growers in the Mackay-Whitsunday and Burdekin regions, to reduce their reliance on high risk pesticides, and enhance the knowledge of industry to improve overall pesticide used across the reef catchments,” Mika said.
“Through Farmacist, I have been provided high level training and mentoring, and as a result I now have the capacity to audit and improve chemical application equipment and produce tailored pesticide management plans. Most importantly, I can provide recommendations to growers to improve their awareness regarding chemical choice. Project Bluewater has also provided me with opportunities to interact and learn from specialists from universities and research institutions.”
“Through the Agriculture Extension Work Placement Program, I have received training in many technical and practical fields, some highlights include: specialized agronomy, drone piloting, GIS spatial analysis, soil health, water quality, trial design and implementation, facilitation and also aspects of behavioral psychology.”
Mika believes that being adaptable and genuine is the key to undertaking an extension role in the reef space.
“We work with hundreds of growers all over the district, every farmer we meet has a different story and perspective, understanding what drives them and their goals is the most important aspect of building a meaningful relationship with them,” he said.
From paddock to paperwork, all of the work that Mika does at Farmacist as a part of the work placement is crucial in building his skill set to set him up for a career in the diverse field of extension and agronomy. The program has been pivotal in strengthening agricultural extension into regional communities.
“My transition from the surf culture of the Gold Coast into the sugarcane industry in regional Queensland would not have been possible without the opportunity provided through the Work Placement Program. The program enables the opportunity for graduates from anywhere to create a career path into agriculture, while also bringing young talent to regional Queensland. The opportunity offered by QFF has provided the tools I needed to build real connections with farmers to support real change,” he said.
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.