Having lived in the city for his entire life, Steven Wei never thought that one day he would work in the Australian agriculture industry with people from all over the world to help protect the Great Barrier Reef. After achieving a graduate diploma degree in Sustainable Agriculture from Charles Sturt University and a master’s degree in Environmental Management, he worked in a Tasmanian orchard practising Integrated Pest Management until he decided to move to Queensland.
Before participating in the Agriculture Extension Work Placement Program run by the Queensland Farmers’ Federation (QFF), Steven barely had any work experience in extension or irrigation. AgriTech Solutions (ATS) provided the opportunity to work with an experienced team to encourage growers to change or improve their irrigation practices to achieve better productivity, profitability and sustainability in North Queensland.
“It is such a big challenge but also a great opportunity to work within a new industry in a new area,” Steven said.
“Luckily, I have been able to work with the amazing ATS team and local growers, with support from Sugar Research Australia, Burdekin Productivity Service, QFF, James Cook University (JCU), the University of Southern Queensland, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Burdekin Bowen Integrated Floodplain Management Advisory Committee and Farmicist. Everyone dedicates their own experience, knowledge and passion for improving Reef water quality.”
Through the program, Steven coordinated and delivered extension events based on analysing the performance of grower’s irrigation scheduling and their automated systems.
“Thanks to innovative growers in the Burdekin area, I was able to apply my technical knowledge to assist with identifying potential opportunities to improve the irrigation scheduling and performance, which is not only beneficial to the growers, but also for water quality. Also, the integration of automation, big data analysis and traditional surface irrigation illustrated a bright future for the agri-industry,” he said.
The Agriculture Extension Work Placement Program provided many practical and professional development training opportunities for Steven. For example, the full graduate team attended the Australasia Pacific Extension Network Conference in September 2019 where extension techniques, strategies and experiences were shared by people from all over Australia and overseas.
Steven is currently working with JCU, QFF and NQ Dry Tropics on multiple projects to assist innovative cane growers to improve their irrigation performance with automation systems. By using advanced techniques, less water is applied which means a reduced amount of run-off and deep percolations from the farm with less fertiliser, pesticides and herbicides entering the catchment system, thus improving Reef water quality.
“The program has expanded my vision towards the future of the agri-industry. It has been a priceless experience to work with the challenges between agriculture and environment issues. Following the path created by QFF and ATS, I will continue working in this field in the future. This program is definitely one of the best opportunities for those graduates who are looking for a future in an outstanding industry,” Steven said.
The program is delivered by the Rural Jobs and Skills Alliance (led by QFF) and funded by the Queensland Government Reef Water Quality Program and the partnership between the Australian Government’s Reef Trust and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.