Having lived in suburban Brisbane for most of her life, Molly Blake never imagined herself traversing through banana paddocks as part of her daily work. Now she can’t imagine spending her days any other way.
For the past year, Molly has been working as a Graduate Extension Officer for the Australian Banana Growers’ Council (ABGC) based in South Johnstone, around 1 hour south of Cairns, through the Queensland Farmers’ Federation (QFF) Agricultural Extension Work Placement Program.
After graduating with a Bachelor of Environmental Management from The University of Queensland, Molly applied for the program hoping to gain hands-on experience working with producers to improve sustainability of agricultural production for communities and the environment.
“I was really nervous applying for the job, because I didn’t come from an agricultural background, and I was worried that I would be out of my depth,” Molly said.
From day one, however, Molly has experienced a warm welcome from ABGC, her mentors and banana growers alike, all eager to impart their wisdom and teach her the ins and outs of the banana industry.
“Looking back over the past year, my knowledge and skills have grown exponentially, it’s incredible to think about how far I’ve come,” Molly said.
“I’ve even spent some time working on farms, helping the pickers harvest banana bunches, and in sheds, helping to pack bananas into boxes for shipment to market. This has given me a great appreciation for the hard work our farmers do 365 days of the year to get this quintessentially Australian staple in fruit bowls around the country.”
Molly’s time with ABGC has been spent on their Best Management Practice Project, funded by the Queensland Government. The project aims to improve knowledge and farming practices of north Queensland banana growers to improve water quality flowing to the Great Barrier Reef. Molly has helped across various aspects of the project, such as planning and facilitating grower workshops on nutrient and sediment management, and shadowing soil conservationists in giving advice on effective erosion control.
Molly’s role has also seen her flying a drone across banana farms through the Tully and Johnstone catchments for a project to better understand ground cover within the industry.
“I’ve had a lot of independence with this ground cover project, which has given me an opportunity to understand this topic at a deeper level. This understanding has really helped me to improve the conversations I have with growers and the advice that I can give them,” Molly said.
Importantly, Molly has learnt that building strong relationships with growers is at the heart of her role, taking the time to listen to growers, to understand them and how they manage their farm.
“Having not come from an agricultural background, the training and skills development opportunities through the graduate placement program have been vital for me. I have also immensely benefited from the time spent networking with the other graduates in the program, by being able to share our experiences, discuss the issues we face and learn from each other,” Molly said.
“I couldn’t imagine stepping into this field without doing this program. It has been invaluable for my learning and development, helping me to build the confidence and knowledge to work within the dynamic and evolving field of agriculture.”
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 Queensland Reef Water Quality Program.