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Jane Wightman

Jane, can you tell us about your career so far. How did you end up working in extension?

The majority of my career has been dedicated to working in primary industries, primarily in the area of extension. After leaving school I travelled across the UK, New Zealand and Australia working on farms across many industries (including dairy, sheep, beef and cropping) as well as earning an Advanced National Diploma of Agriculture. I loved agriculture and thought I would farm forever.

After I married an Australian and emigrated out here in 1992, I decided to continue my studies and completed a Master of Applied Science. After graduating, I found my opportunity to return to agriculture and took up a position with the Queensland Department of Agriculture as an Extension Officer.

I worked with a team of extension officers and producers across Queensland and we developed a strategic business management program for farmers which I delivered in south west and then central Queensland for the grazing industries. I then moved into a state coordination position to role out the program in the dairy industry.

After having children, I joined Hort Innovation as an Industry Services Manager with the tropical fruit industries for five years. I then made the step to Meat & Livestock Australia as the Extension & Innovation Project Manager. However, the pull back to the horticulture sector was always there and I came back to Hort Innovation for a Relationship Manager and Business Development Manager role with the vegetable industries.

In 2019, Hort Innovation launched a new Extension initiative to ensure communication and extension activities truly support business decisions and enhance practices on farm, and I was successful in applying for this exciting position and lead this new team.

How would you describe extension?

Delivering extension on the ground is about working with growers to identify the issues they have in running a sustainable business and working collectively with growers and other relevant stakeholders to identify what is causing those challenges and jointly finding suitable solutions that suit growers’ business systems.

Do you have any achievements from your career that you’re particularly proud of?

Yes, there is one that stands out for me. I was working with a team of extension officers and we all collaborated with producers to identify the strategic business issues they needed to solve. It was fantastic to put our minds and expertise together to help them find the best solutions. Outcomes included increased shared ownership in business management decision making across the farming family,  initiation of succession plans, farm amalgamations,  also retirements and selling of farms and  the growth in group marketing of organic beef.

At the moment, I am very proud of what the Hort Innovation Extension team has achieved since COVID-19 disrupted all our lives. A new business team has been initiated with everyone based regionally, and with no opportunity to meet face to face all communications have been via Zoom.

During this time, the Regional Extension Managers have connected with and developed relationships with growers, regional industry organisations and service providers. Feedback from consultations held with past participants of the Frontier Funded leadership programs supported the development of COVID initiated and future leadership investments. The team are finalising a review of Hort Innovation industry development levy investments Recommendations from this review will support delivery partners in delivering high quality outcomes for industry and demonstrate on farm impact from these levy investments. 

How does your current role differ from traditional roles in extension, such as industry development officers?

I am responsible for managing the Hort Innovation Extension team to ensure they have the necessary support to deliver strategic extension services in their regions. As the Head of Extension, I am based in Brisbane and currently cover regional responsibilities for the North-East.

Our team brings Hort Innovation regional presence so we can understand grower needs, enable access to existing RD&E outcomes and identify innovative opportunities. We will be participating in industry activities so we can better understand the demands growers face and identify opportunities to invest in initiatives that address significant cross-industry issues.

What key projects are your team working on at the moment?

The Extension team are currently developing regional extension plans with input from growers. These discussions and final plans will help identify high priority regional issues for our team to focus on. As COVID-19 restrictions ease this will include getting out and about in the regions and participating in industry activities and events. Another key priority is our involvement in grower consultations on the renewal of Hort Innovation Strategic Industry Plans for 2021-2026.These plans will guide levy investments for the next five years.

What are you most looking forward to in your role in 2021?

There is a lot in store for the Hort Innovation Extension team in 2021! We are all looking forward to more -face-to-face time with growers to identify what needs they have that are relevant across different horticultural industries and collaborating with industry on working towards solutions.

How can growers and industry get in touch with you?

You can get in touch with me anytime on 0427 142 046 or jane.wightman@horticulture.com.au.