It’s impossible to miss the sugarcane on the way to Sarina – endless rows spread from the highway to the ranges. For agricultural extension trainee Jefferson Allan, it’s a now familiar scene owing to the Queensland Farmers’ Federation’s (QFF) Agricultural Extension Work Placement Program. Since the program began in 2018, it has provided graduates with a unique opportunity to get involved in agricultural extension up and down the Queensland coast.
Before the program, Jefferson graduated from Curtin University in Perth with a Bachelor of Agribusiness (Hons). He had spent his Honours year in the lab, investigating a fungal disease of canola. After finishing his studies, Jefferson applied for the QFF program and was placed at Plane Creek Productivity Services Limited (PCPSL) in Sarina.
At PCPSL, he works on projects that aim to reduce nutrient and pesticide loads on the Great Barrier Reef. Nitrogen runoff is a particular priority for the Plane Creek catchment. Across the Mackay-Whitsunday region, nitrogen runoff needs to be reduced by more than 300 tonnes to meet water quality targets. Jefferson sees the program as a chance to make a change.
“It’s exciting to work in an area that has such real outcomes. Where else could you work with farmers and help the reef at the same time?” he said.
As an extension organisation, PCPSL helps growers make changes on their farms and the one-on-one connections with each farmer is also an important part of his work. “Supporting practice change means getting out on farms and working with growers. I’m still new to extension, but they’ve been very welcoming”, he comments.
During his time in the QFF program, Jefferson has gained a varied experience of the cane industry. Working at one of the smaller productivity boards, his activities are varied.
“PCPSL is pretty small compared to some of the other productivity boards, which means we all have to pitch in when it gets busy. We do a lot of fieldwork, like disease testing and cutting cane on the plots. More broadly, I’ve also been involved with Sugar Research Australia harvest loss trials and Reef Catchments water quality monitoring.”
Having spent 9 months in sugarcane extension, Jefferson is enthusiastic about the industry.
“I didn’t know what to expect at the start of the program, but I’m certainly glad I got involved. I work every day with growers and get to see the change happening on the ground. The network of growers and extension staff here is really positive. I think it’s a great sign for the future to have such an involved community in Plane Creek.”
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.