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Wendy Thorsborne

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

I grew up on a sheep and cattle station outside Charleville, about 800km west of Brisbane, so I guess you could say agriculture is in my blood. After I left university as a qualified agricultural scientist, I began my career as an extension officer with the Bureau of Sugar Experiment Stations just south of Cairns in Queensland. In fact, I was the first female extension officer to be appointed, so there was a bit of novelty around that at the time.

I decided that the land management and open spaces were of more interest to me, so I became a Regional Landcare Facilitator for Far North Queensland – this included Cape York Peninsula, the Gulf and the Tropical Coast – I thought I was pretty well in paradise.

It was about this time that the Queensland Government decided that working in groups had many advantages, so we were extensively trained in group dynamics and facilitation. Armed with this experience, I moved into the field of plant and animal pest management. Here I worked closely with local governments and various extension staff throughout Queensland, to develop and implement workable area pest management plans.

Next, I had a stint in Brisbane, developing biosecurity policy and legislation for the state government. My husband and I moved to a beef cattle farm in Gympie, and, with my work, I dabbled in the dairy industry and a range of really cool emerging industries (such as organics, bush foods, and paddock to plate opportunities). We spent time working closely with local governments in northern New South Wales to develop a regional approach to weed management, including developing a social media campaign and TV commercial from scratch.

Most recently I have been coordinating reef water quality extension activities throughout the Burnett Mary Region of Queensland – taking in cane, grazing, grains and horticulture industries.

This sounds a bit like my career has been all over the place, but people, extension and change management have always been at the centre of my focus.

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

I am really grateful to have worked in a range of industries, travelled to fantastic regional and remote places throughout Queensland and northern NSW for work and worked with so many amazing people – both extension staff and producers. People who put their heart and soul into what they do.

I always have a bit of a soft spot for Landcare as we were effectively there at the start, and we helped to set up numerous Landcare groups throughout Queensland – it’s heartening to see that a number of them still exist and are out there kicking goals in their communities.

I have been fortunate to work with really dedicated extension staff recently and coordinate their natural resource management activities throughout the entire Burnett Mary region. Together we established an Extension Community of Practice and delivered some exceptional “out of the box” training opportunities – with expertise from within and outside our network. We were also able to have substantial input into the Queensland Extension Model of Practice.

How would you describe extension?

To me, extension is all about enabling change in individuals, communities and industries involved in the natural resource management and primary industry sectors. The adoption of a new practice, or a new industry may be driven by something such as market trends, social needs or financial requirements. So extension becomes understanding what is driving the change, or adoption, and working with growers to work through that change process. And taking on something new may or may not be plain sailing – as extension officers, we need to be there with the grower.

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

I was drawn to this role in Hort Innovation as it will enable me to share my experience and build the role of extension in Hort Innovation. In particular, enhancing networks across the numerous industries that exist and fostering lasting connections with growers and delivery partners.

As my role in extension goes across industries in the North-East region, I can see opportunities for sharing information and ideas and building networks across the region. Ultimately, this cross-industry networking will benefit growers.

I am particularly looking forward to developing a deep understanding of what makes this region and its people unique; and understanding the needs of the growers operating here. What region will you be working in? How will your work bring benefits to this region? I am covering the North East region, which is effectively the East Coast of Queensland from the Tweed up to Rockhampton and incorporates the horticultural powerhouses of Bundaberg and the Lockyer Valley, and down to Bellingen in NSW.

The North East region has a fantastic climate for growing crops, and soil “so good you could eat it”. The region includes growing, packing and processing facilities for crops ranging from pineapples to passionfruit and macadamias to citrus. Growers in the region understand the importance of efficient and sustainable farming systems and their businesses are both diverse and innovative.

As there is such a range of industries existing here, my regional role will provide ample opportunity for us to share notes across industries, build the capacity of the industry development staff and to collaborate with delivery partners and growers to solve regional problems. For areas that are not terribly well serviced in terms of extension support, I can see the value of sharing skills and capacity across industries and pooling expertise where suitable.

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

The Extension Team has been working on renewing the Strategic Investment Plans for each of the industries that are part of Hort Innovation – and ensuring that the industries have ownership of these plans. We are also developing Regional Extension Plans which will outline how I will be working within the North-East to improve the coordination of extension efforts in the region. This will involve contacting as many growers and delivery partners as possible to gather their input.

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

I do not have a horticulture background, so I’m learning more about the range of services and information available through Hort Innovation. I am really looking forward to catching up with growers and industry members in my region to find out what motivates them, how Hort Innovation can assist them and connect their needs with the research and development being carried out here.

How can growers and industry get in touch with you?

I work from Monday to Thursday and am available for a chat any time on those days on 0407 382 284 or via wendy.thorsborne@horticulture.com.au.