Advisory Panel spotlight: meet Jacqueline Wilson-Smith, the new Ginger Advisory Panel Chair


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Self-proclaimed herb and spice ‘aficionado’ Jacqueline Wilson-Smith has recently been appointed Chair of AgriFutures Australia’s (AgriFutures) Ginger Advisory Panel. With 25 years’ experience in innovation, strategy, research and development, spanning herbs and spices, wine and agriculture, Jacqueline brings a collaborative leadership approach and is focused on working with the ginger industry to promote the long-term resilience and sustainability of Australia’s ginger industry.  

We caught up with Jacqueline and heard about how she went from working as a graduate accountant to championing Australia’s ginger industry.  

How did you first get involved in the ginger industry? 

After completing a commerce degree at the University of Queensland, I worked as a graduate accountant within the audit division of Ernst and Young. We were working with Buderim Ginger on the Sunshine Coast and the CFO at the time asked if I knew a go-getting graduate who would be interested in doing market research, innovation, marketing, tourism and communicating the stories of the ginger farmers. I thought, I can do that. I threw my hat in the ring, spoke to the managing partner at Ernst and Young who gave me their blessing and that’s how it started. That was 1995, so a long, long time ago. 

I became a constant researcher and promoter of ginger, it gave me a huge amount of confidence in my new trade of innovation, marketing, business development, and research and development.  

What do you hope to achieve in your time as chair of the Ginger Advisory Panel? 

I hope to facilitate robust and respectful conversations, so the AgriFutures Ginger Advisory Panel is best placed to recommend the most strategic RD&E projects for the prosperous sustainability of the Australian ginger industry for generations to come. I plan to serve the levy payers by bringing to the Panel independence, good governance and a global agri-food perspective. My promise to the levy payers is to ensure that all voices are heard and different perspectives are considered.  

Since you started in ginger 25 years ago, what have been the biggest changes you’ve seen in the industry? 

There is an increasing trend around the value and acceptance of the goodness and medicinal benefits that all herbs and spices can have, but ginger plays a special role in that mix. The trend towards finding more natural ways of solving consumer health concerns, including aspirational desires towards wellness, immunity, supporting women through pregnancy, a whole raft of things.  

We’ve seen a shift into Asian cuisines which is building consumer demand for ginger domestically and in export markets. Off the back of culinary demand, is the beverage industry. Through all of this the flavour acceptance, as well as the goodness benefits, will continue to see new opportunities coming through. 

Globally there is a greater focus on addressing sustainability at the farm level and complementing environmental and increasing concerns with sustainable commercial benefits. 

What would you say have been your career highlights to date? 

I love to see good research, development and extension work translated into commercial reality. The best example I have is my work on the launch of Gourmet Garden’s lightly dried herbs. It was breakthrough research and development in every aspect; working from the farm to improve the quality of the yield and the flavour, the traceability, technology and how we added value with the lightly drying process, through to positioning to the consumer, and really understanding what the consumer pain points were with fresh herbs and spices. We designed a research and development program that had consumers at the heart. I was very proud and fortunate to be part of that research and translation, and to celebrate its success.  

I’m also very grateful for the flops and failures that come with research and development programs. What I have learnt through my 25 years is a process of how to mitigate the risk of failure without being fearful of trying lots of things. 

Your experience spans a range of agricultural industries. With that perspective, what do you see are some of the key opportunities for ginger growers and the ginger industry more broadly? 

 We’ve got a fantastic opportunity to be world leaders in translating research into positive impacts on the ground for our industry, as well as being the first to market in leading research and development in areas of high priority to the industry.  

Australia has an excellent reputation for health and safety, not just in the ginger industry, but across our agricultural industries. There is a huge opportunity to be at the forefront of fully tracing and proving the health and safety of our growing and production methods, driving quality of the bioactive components within ginger that actually make a difference, and backing it up with research and robust and defensible data.  

There’s a growing appetite for technology adoption and transparency across the value chain which is important for proving the quality delivered to customers and consumers; any farmers at the forefront of this will have an advantage to help processors meet the global consumer demands in that space.  

In 2017 you were named the AgriFutures Rural Woman of the Year Queensland Winner. How has this supported your career? Do you think this award has influenced the direction you have taken in the ginger industry and agriculture more generally? 

Winning the AgriFutures Rural Woman Award (RWA) made me realise I was being useful to the food and agricultural industry and that my efforts were worthwhile. It was a wake-up call that skills, especially in strategic facilitation and getting people to work together better, were needed and highly regarded. The RWA prompted me to start the Sustainable Innovation Company and provide strategic consulting services to the industry I love. 

The RWA is a powerful platform that enables and encourages leadership and the alumni is incredibly supportive, cheering each other on. Having both the RWA and alumni behind me gave me a much needed nudge to step into leadership, feeling supported and inspired to make a difference in agriculture. Applying for Chair of Ginger Advisory Panel was a logical next step due to my long history in herb and spice innovation, especially ginger and my life’s work purpose to create better agri-food systems to feed the world well. 

If you are passionate about making a positive contribution to your industry and would like to be notified of opportunities to apply for a position on AgriFutures Australia’s levied industries Advisory Panels, please submit an expression of interest and we’ll notify you when we are recruiting for new members.

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