Olive, can you tell us about your career so far. How did you end up working in extension?
I have had the privilege of working in rural and regional Australia for over 25 years. From a previous role as an agronomist on the Darling Downs, where I worked collaboratively within a regional agronomy group to identify and solve area-wide insect management issues, a role in extension was a natural progression. So, with some upskilling in education, I changed my jobs and ultimately my life by taking on an irrigation extension role within the Australian cotton industry.
Throughout my career I have worked with several different industries; as a private consultant researching the acceleration of adoption of research outcomes; building capacities of rural women to influence agricultural policy and strategic direction; and reconnecting retired agricultural scientists with agricultural communities for mutual benefit. I have also worked across Queensland to build partnerships capable of achieving enduring sustainability outcomes through Queensland’s Natural Resource Managements Groups investment programs.
In 2017 I completed a PhD where I explored how people who work on facilitating change (for example, extension professionals) within complex social contexts (such as environmental issues affecting agriculture) could assess their impact. The result was several tools and frameworks that could be utilised to demonstrate the impact of such programs.
Do you have any achievements from your career that you’re particularly proud of?
In 2006, I received an Australian Cotton Industry Young Achievement award for working with farmers, advisors, researchers, and other stakeholders to co-develop and deliver innovations in their irrigation management. The work was the result of a genuine partnership between myself, industry, and various members of the Australian cotton industry’s irrigation knowledge development system that I say it was our award.
How would you describe extension?
Extension is the privileged role of working in partnership with an agricultural industry or industries, and their stakeholders, to continuously and strategically search for opportunities to improve outcomes. It involves proactively assembling and coordinating the resources, people, and processes needed by industry to progress and develop.
How does your current role differ from traditional roles in extension, such as industry development officers?
In this role, I have the opportunity to work with Hort Innovation extension delivery partners, and the industries they are working with, to co-create programs which will deliver the best outcomes and therefore the highest value for levy payers. This means I am currently working in partnership with our extension delivery partners and Northern horticulture industries to search for opportunities to strengthen the Northern Horticulture RD&E system. This is so that resources, people, and processes are delivering the best outcomes in increasingly efficient and effective ways.
What region will you be working in? How will your work bring benefits to this region?
I am working across the Northern Australia region, from Broome through to Darwin and Tropical North Queensland down to Mackay. In this region, we have several opportunities such as the development of Northern Australia and securing domestic and international markets’ confidence in the sustainability of our practices, most notably in the Great Barrier Reef Catchments. There is also the prospect of developing niche markets and exploring supply chain alternatives. These are huge multi-industry opportunities that will benefit from a collaborative and capable extension effort that is integrated through RD&E, across horticulture sectors.
What key projects are your team working on at the moment?
I am currently working across the tropical cluster portfolio on renewing their Strategic Investment Plans (SIPs) for 2021-2026. These plans direct and inform how Hort Innovation invests levy funds, so it is essential that each industry has ownership of their plan. This involves a high degree of industry consultation about the current SIP and what has worked, what still needs working on, and what is on the horizon.
The SIP discussions have been valuable for informing the identification of opportunities across the sector. A Northern Horticulture Extension Network is also forming and will ultimately be a key part of building the conditions and relationships required.
What are you most looking forward to in your role in 2021?
Working with our northern horticulture delivery partners, and the industries that they are working with, to respond to the opportunities we have identified and fully realise our collective potential.
What do you do for fun outside of work?
I am a tennis tragic, who travels to watch and sometimes compete. I even have a ‘Tennis TV’ completely dedicated to watching the women’s tennis tour. Tennis has been a valuable asset throughout my career, as it has been the main way I have socialised in the many rural and regional towns I have worked in.
How can growers and industry get in touch with you?
I love to discuss all things horticulture, research, development, and extension, so phone calls are most welcome on 0428 255 506. Alternatively, you can email me at email@example.com.