Carleigh Drew never imagined that she would be participating in an agricultural extension program after studying at The University of Queensland.
But after graduating with a Master’s Degree in Environmental Management, the Queensland Farmers’ Federation (QFF) Agricultural Extension Work Placement Program presented a unique opportunity for Carleigh.
The program aims to improve capacity in extension services across the Great Barrier Reef.
Through the program, Carleigh was placed with Townsville-based Natural Resource Management group NQ Dry Tropics and suddenly, she had dust on her boots and agricultural dirt on her hands.
She was guided by experienced extension professionals into working with industries such as grazing and sugarcane.
“It has been an intense learning experience,” Carleigh said.
“I can see the outcomes of that learning taking shape right in front of me.”
“When I started, I would flounder for words during a conversation about grazing management or grazing.”
“Now I’m driving buggies through basalt country and mapping plans for fencing to land types.”
Carleigh has worked on numerous projects with NQ Dry Tropics aimed at improving water quality flowing to the Great Barrier Reef, including the Reef Alliance-funded irrigation efficiency support grants for sugarcane and the Reef Trust Repeated Tenders – Burdekin project. She has also contributed to event organisation, data analysis and project publications.
Carleigh participated in the rollout of the Grazing Resilience and Sustainable Solutions (GRASS) program, which meant she worked closely with graziers to identify areas of land in poor or degraded condition, establish monitoring sites and management plans.
Despite the restrictions of COVID-19, modern technology allowed for long-distance collaboration between producers and extension officers, with graziers trying new ways of communicating.
Working with two diverse industries at once was a challenge Carleigh welcomed.
“I’ve been asked a few times if I feel there are many differences between grazing and sugarcane,” Carleigh said.
“The answer is still an unequivocal ‘yes and no’!”
“At the end of the day extension is about working with individuals as much as industries.”
“The more preconceived ideas you have going into a conversation, the more stumbling blocks you’re setting up.”
“That’s probably been one of the most important things I’ve learned. You have to be willing to open your own mind before you go trying to open anybody else’s mind.”
The program provided valuable training and networking opportunities, such as the chance to study alongside graziers and other service providers at Resource Consulting Service’s seven-day Grazing For Profit workshop and attending the Australasian-Pacific Extension Conference in Darwin in 2019.
The network formed by the graduates also brings its own value.
“I think there’s a strong sense of camaraderie in the group,” Carleigh said.
“There are a lot of younger faces coming into extension, and it means a great deal to have peers to turn to for help and to share experiences with.”
“Many of us from the program will continue in extension, and these will be long-term friendships.”
“I’m very grateful to have been given the opportunity to be a part of it.”
The Agricultural Extension Work Placement Program is delivered by the Rural Jobs and Skills Alliance (led by QFF) and funded by the Queensland Government’s Reef Water Quality Program and the partnership between the Australian Government’s Reef Trust and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.