The Queensland Agricultural Extension Work Placement Program (AEWPP) connects agricultural extension graduates, trainees and early career professionals with employment and training opportunities with host organisations.
The program was developed to address a shortage of skilled extension advisers in Great Barrier Reef catchments and improve extension coordination across local delivery organisations.
As of 2021, the program has supported 32 graduates to develop work-ready skills and networks across the grazing, sugarcane and horticulture industries. Most of the 21 graduates who have completed the program to date have gained employment in agricultural extension and farm advisory services. Eleven graduates will finish the program in 2022.
The program is delivered by the Queensland Farmers’ Federation (QFF) and the Rural Jobs and Skills Alliance. It started with a pilot in 2019 funded by the Queensland Government’s Queensland Reef Water Quality Program (QRWQP). The program expanded in 2020 with funding from the QRWQP and the partnership between the Australian Government’s Reef Trust and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.
The third intake in 2021, funded by QRWQP, sees graduates employed for 15 months to assist with the delivery of extension services through their host organisations, supported by mentoring and a training program. Graduates also have the opportunity to build professional and local networks with their fellow graduates, industry advisors, previous graduates and people in their local communities.
For more information about the program, visit https://www.qff.org.au/projects/agricultural-extension-work-placement-program/.
Farmacist is the largest privately owned independent agronomy company in the Australian sugar industry, and also services clients in the horticulture, beef, legumes and grains industries.
The company has seen strong growth in demand for agronomic advice and extension as a result of increased government funding for projects to reduce run-off to the Reef.
Farmacist now employs over 30 people and operates in several regions, providing services including nutrient management, pesticide management, soil health and precision agriculture.
Jayson Dowie, Farmacist’s Director and AEWPP mentor, credits their success to the company’s close-knit family culture and personal investment in their employees. This sense of community is vital when it comes to hiring new employees.
“What we’re looking for is young people to come into rural areas that are driven, passionate, care about the land, and care about the growers” he said.
However, finding graduate agronomists is no small feat. Many universities have cut their agronomy courses, with key technical skills no longer being taught. Firms like Farmacist now rely on science graduates who have a basic level of knowledge and general interest in agronomy.
Jayson is acutely aware of the need for young people in the industry.
“If we don’t get the kids back into rural communities, not only agronomy but agriculture is going to struggle,” he said.
The reality is that the majority of agricultural extension work is carried out in regional areas with small skilled labour pools. For employers, the hiring process is often arduous and time-consuming, with no guarantee that an ideal candidate will apply.
The costly alternative is to post online job adverts for graduates from universities around the country, giving employers little discretion over who sees their posts. Finding the right person with the right skills is hard enough; finding the right person that is willing to relocate brings a whole new level of difficulty.
Under the AEWWP, QFF works with universities around the country to connect high-quality graduates with extension businesses in regional Queensland, saving companies like Farmacist a great deal of time and resources.
“It’s awesome that we’re presented with a list of potential candidates that have been stripped down to meet our needs… that in and of itself is a huge benefit to us,” Jayson said.
Since joining the program in 2019, Farmacist has mentored five graduates, retaining each of them. Jayson highlights the work done by Mika Rowston, a 2019 graduate from the Gold Coast, as an example of how valuable the AEWPP graduates can be. Mika’s management and coordination of a responsible pesticide project in the Burdekin helped growers with their pesticide management planning. Mika also fills a critical gap in chemical extension capability in the region, allowing Farmacist to expand into specialised areas.
Jayson has found the program provides graduates exposure to a wide range of training opportunities across varied disciplines, and allows them time to develop and understand the growers and their concerns.
For Jayson, the most significant difference between the candidates presented through the AEWPP and through online job sites is their passion.
“If you don’t have young people who are passionate coming in, it impacts the whole industry,” he said.
Beyond this, the salary-support structure of the program provides a strong risk mitigation option, as graduates are given time to learn agronomic skills without the company having the pressure of paying a full-time salary.
Getting the right people on board is crucial to maintaining the reputation of any business, and for agricultural extension businesses, the greatest assets are passionate, personable, and capable staff. The AEWPP is considered the gold standard for agricultural graduate programs because it does so much to help businesses develop these valuable assets and meet their business goals.
To find out more about Farmacist, visit https://www.farmacist.com.au/.