Bronwyn, can you tell us about your career so far. How did you end up working in extension?
After studying agricultural science, my early career involved working in crop protection research in Western Australia with the State Government, where I worked with a variety of insects including dung beetles, fruit flies and western flower thrips. I believe I learned the value of resilience through hours of collecting maggots from rotten fruit and counting lots of tiny insects! I continued to work with the State Government in more formal RD&E projects that had a mix of field and lab work with pest identification, monitoring and pest management for the next few years working with thrips and aphids in potatoes, capsicums, cucumbers, flowers and strawberries across WA.
Next, my interest in integrated pest management (IPM) took me to Queensland to work with brassica vegetables. This provided my first in-depth exposure to extension as it involved some formal training in facilitation, evaluation, project management and adult learning. Being part of national and international RD&E teams for IPM in brassicas and later sweet corn did wonders for expanding horizons, networks, collaboration and having an impact in a complex environment.
Later I took up a secondment where I began working in policy, which showed me a very different perspective from working in the field. I was responsible for developing strategies for the State Government’s investment in horticultural RD&E in collaboration with researchers and extension personnel. This stint sowed the seed for understanding this space more.
I then returned to the research station to begin a PhD, but during my studies an opportunity came up for our family to return to WA. I worked part-time remotely, continuing my work in IPM vegetables on a national project related to practice change rather than field trials, and I also began working with WA citrus as a value chain coordinator. During this time, my PhD changed from a focus on innovation in the vegetable industry in Queensland to looking at innovation and regional citrus industries in Australia.
After completing my PhD, I began working with WA Citrus as their Industry Development Manager. In this role I use both my extension and research skills to facilitate RD&E activities and support the industry leadership.
Do you have any achievements from your career that you’re particularly proud of?
I am very grateful that I get to do what I enjoy as part of my work and consider this an achievement in itself. Through my work in integrated pest management, I had the opportunity to work in a multi-disciplinary team which was very rewarding and also resulted in impact in the field.
The challenge of adapting workshops on identifying pests and beneficials for Australian, Fijian, Samoan, Chinese and Vietnamese growers was also a highlight!
Lastly working with the WA citrus industry over 10 years has been very rewarding. It has kept WA connected with the national citrus industry, with on-ground R&D in WA orchards and addressing the industry priorities such as biosecurity and improving packouts.
How would you describe extension?
When I think of extension, I think of the people involved in the horticultural industry and all the conversations that happen between them. As someone working in extension, I usually find myself doing one of five things – training, facilitating, developing information, monitoring or assessing impact. Ultimately, these are all forms of sharing knowledge in formats that are understood. The end result is a change made to address a problem. This could be a change in knowledge, attitude, skills or practice in any of the parties that have been part of the conversation.
How does your current role differ from traditional roles in extension, such as industry development officers? What drew you to this role at Hort Innovation?
My part-time role with Hort Innovation operates at a higher and broader level than an Industry Development Officer (IDO). Most IDOs are aligned to one industry, whereas the Regional Extension Manager role is across horticulture.
I was drawn to this role at Hort Innovation because it meant working across the various horticulture industries in Western Australia. Through my work in the citrus industry, I could see that there are similar challenges that other horticulture industries were also facing.
What region will you be working in? How will your work bring benefits to this region?
I am working in the western region which covers most of Western Australia, extending from Carnarvon down to Albany, including production around the Perth metro area.
The creation of these positions was in response to input from levy payers. Having someone on the ground in WA benefits growers and industry members by having someone that improves the links between the WA horticulture industry and the national industry priorities and understands the context of WA horticulture industries.
What key projects are your team working on at the moment?
At the beginning of 2021, our team are focusing on two key projects; finalising each of our regional extension plans and conducting industry consultation for the strategic investment of levy for the next five years. Both of these activities rely on input from growers from the regions.
What are you most looking forward to in your role in 2021?
In 2021 I am looking forward to meeting more of the Western Australia horticulture industry. Connecting ideas and needs between horticulture industry members, supporting delivery partners and connecting needs to RD&E activities that are being conducted using grower’s levy investment.
How can growers and industry get in touch with you?
I look forward to hearing from growers and industry members. They can contact me either through email or phone, Bronwyn.firstname.lastname@example.org or mobile 0427 694 863.