Innovation and applicability central to new Manager, Research Emma Hand

29.04.21

AgriFutures Australia’s John Smith, General Manager Research has welcomed the appointment of Emma Hand in her new role as Manager, Research for AgriFutures Export Fodder, Ginger and Pasture Seeds Programs.

“Emma has worked for AgriFutures Australia for the past fourteen months and her appointment builds on our commitment to these programs,” said Mr Smith who also thanked AgriFutures Managers, Lucinda Staley-McCrohon and Annelies McGaw for their contributions to the AgriFutures Ginger, Export Fodder and Pasture Seeds Programs, respectively.

Coming full circle

Emma’s passion for agriculture and rural development was instilled from a young age under the guidance of her “enthusiastic and innovative father” who was a cereal cropper and rice farmer at Deniliquin, NSW.

“My parents lived in Melbourne, but my Dad decided he wanted to be a rice farmer, so they up and moved to start farming,” said Emma.

“He went from working in an office in methods engineering, with very little farming background, to buying a piece of land at Deniliquin. In the 40-odd years they were farming there, Dad became known as an innovative rice farmer.”

“I think Dad’s innovation and approach sparked my drive to look for new and better ways to do things in agriculture”.

“Dad regularly participated in research trials. Funnily enough, I remember John Smith, my now boss at AgriFutures Australia visiting our farm when he worked for the Department of Primary Industries, (DPI) and now of course, I work with John.”

Research driving extension

Emma’s interest in rural issues and agriculture was consolidated with the completion of a Bachelor of Animal Science, graduating with first class honours, and a Master of Philosophy (Research) at Charles Sturt University (CSU).

Emma’s Master’s topic looked at the effects of omega-6 and omega-3 in the diets of Australian ewes at joining on the resulting lamb sex ratios.

Always interested in agriculture and animal production systems, Emma says Animal Science has been an “awesome, broad degree that has enabled me to tailor it to my interests.”

It has also helped drive Emma’s passion for working in developing countries where the need for effective and innovative research and extension strategies is paramount. Some of her previous work has been around improved management of grazing pastures, nutritional and breeding management of livestock, selection of breeding animals, and animal health strategies.

“I have been fortunate enough to be able to apply my broad skill set across a range industries and applications,” said Emma.

That skill set has led Emma to work on a research for development extension project in Pakistan funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR). Emma’s involvement in the project stemmed from a student visit to Pakistan in early 2008 where “she fell in love with extension and the people.”

“My work with farmers in Pakistan on marketing and value chains is centred around the aim of making sure everything we do is applicable and creates some sort of positive change for the farmers and their families,” said Emma.

“It can be something as small as teaching women farmers about dry matter composition and that feeding green forage to an animal doesn’t always meet their animal’s nutritional requirements, even though it may look like they’ve got plenty to eat. The application of that simple information can make a big difference to a smallholder farmer”.

Emma has also worked as a volunteer Farm Management Trainer for the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries in Samoa, and on a range of research projects at the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation and CSU.

Value for money for levied payers

In March 2021, Emma was part of an AgriFutures Australia and industry contingent who attended a field day hosted by Lucerne Australia, which showcased their Lucerne Variety Trials, looking at water stressing pasture to increase seed yield.

“One of the key takeaways for me was during a feedback session; one farmer said that because of these trails he had the confidence to stretch his watering out longer. That meant he had the time to take his kids to the beach, and that to me is real impact.”

“We want to not only make sure farmers are getting production gains, but that the research we fund is actually applicable, and it has a positive impact on their lifestyle.”

“Making sure levy payers are heard and feel like we are investing in research that has meaning for them, that they can adopt and apply and is beneficial to them, is central to me,” said Emma.

“I don’t want to spend funds on research that is going to sit on the bookshelf. A key focus of mine is the extension of research and getting down to how that can be applied on-farm.”

In the Export Fodder Program, great gains are being made in the oaten hay sector.

“We are excited to have a commercial partner on board for the National Oat Breeding Program and to build on all of the great work that South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI) has done, and propel oat breeding into the future,” said Emma.

In the Ginger Program, researcher Guy Coleman’s automation work on weeds, dubbed “Ginny the Ginger robot” has the potential for great application for the industry and Australian agriculture more broadly. “It is a great example of taking an idea that is being developed for another industry, in this case broadacre cropping, and applying that to our industries. I think that cross industry collaboration and application of technology is really important,” said Emma.

Working with stakeholders, is also key to Emma’s role and she is looking forward to getting industry insights and working closely with the Programs’ Advisory Panels.

“I’m really excited to get to know the industries better and draw on the Advisory Panel’s wealth of experience and industry insights.”

The importance of targeted, applicable research

Emma’s background in farming and previous research experience across a variety of research programs and projects, has made her acutely aware of the importance of targeted, applicable research and the effective delivery of that research to rural communities.

“I am more of a big-picture thinker, and I am fascinated by how research can benefit farmers and producers,” said Emma.

“I love the work Agrifutures Australia does, it is so diverse and in my new role, I am most looking forward to tailoring our research to levy payers,” she said.

Prior to her appointment as Manager, Research (Pasture Seeds, Ginger and Export Fodder) Emma held a communications position in the AgriFutures Australia Research team. Although a slight detour from her career trajectory it was a career change that she describes as super beneficial.

“Because of this experience, in my new program management role, I can see how all these projects can be communicated right from the start and the value in continuing throughout that the project”.