When the 2021 intake for the Queensland Farmers’ Federation (QFF) Agricultural Extension Work Placement Program opened, Erin Headon jumped at the chance to apply. The opportunity to develop skills in extension and agronomy was not one she wanted to miss.
While completing a Graduate Certificate in Agriculture, Erin worked as a Crop Scout surveying banana pests and diseases. The potential to explore different farming systems, aspects of production, and their environmental context motivated her to apply for the program.
Erin was placed with Mackay Area Productivity Services (MAPS), an industry-funded and not-for-profit organisation providing agronomic advice and extension to cane growers in the Mackay region. During her placement, Erin spent time learning about pest and disease management from the Productivity Officers and assisting Senior Agronomists with nutrient management planning.
“It was a privilege to spend time with all of the MAPS team. I’ve gained a whole-farm perspective on productivity that I couldn’t have developed without their help. Now when I see poor-yielding cane, I think about the constraints first. Could it be Ratoon Stunting Disease? Compaction? Good yield is not all about adding fertiliser.”
Erin saw this first-hand through involvement in MAPS’ nutrient management project. Thanks to funding from the Great Barrier Reef Foundation (GBRF), this project works with growers to refine nutrient management practices, ultimately reducing the level of Dissolved Inorganic Nitrogen (DIN) reaching the Reef.
“I saw that solid agronomic advice is key. That we can help boost productivity and improve water quality too is icing on the cake. Everybody wins.”
Through the program, Erin was able to connect with other organisations in the region involved in water quality projects.
“Coming from an agriculture background, I haven’t had much exposure to the environmental science side of things. I spent a day with a local NRM group collecting water samples, another day listening to scientists explain monitoring and data modelling. It was great to get involved, to get an idea of how this data is collected and why it’s important.”
Off the clock, Erin has enjoyed exploring the Mackay region, spending weekends camping and hiking with friends. She encourages anyone thinking about applying to go for it.
“It’s a great program. The training has been fantastic as are the networking and opportunities provided. I have gained hope that practice change is possible, and through participating in the program, now have the extension skills to support 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.