Above A screen shot from the virtual extension officer online tool.
If you have ever had weeds or pest animals on your property, you’ll probably understand the value of a good extension officer. This service can be worth its weight in gold if you’re not familiar with what’s infesting your property and how to control it.
However, extension officers are not always available, and some landholders can be left a little lost on what to do and where to go to find the right information for their own situation.
For these reasons three of Victoria’s pest management groups – the Victorian Gorse Taskforce, the Victorian Rabbit Action Network, and the Victorian Serrated Tussock Working Party, got together to develop a virtual extension officer, or VEO. The groups realised that technology was an underutilised tool in assisting landholders to deal with pests on their land. Added to this, landholders are often time poor and are becoming increasingly familiar with using online technology.
The aim was to develop a fast and effective online tool to build the capability and knowledge of landholders battling gorse, rabbits, and serrated tussock.
The VEO replicates an in-person visit from an extension officer. In-person visits would usually include going to the affected area of the property, identifying the species, assessing the size of the infestation, determining the landholders control preference, then providing suitable advice based on these factors considering efficiency and cost. The VEO offers landholders this experience in four clicks of a mouse.
Landholders begin by accessing the VEO website where they are greeted by an eye-catching virtual map. The map is interactive with the ability to zoom in and pan across the landscape to explore each of the nine different land types that can be selected. The land types are the most common areas you would expect the three pest species to occur. Three further simple steps help to refine the search, so it most accurately represents the landholders situation. The VEO then offers the most suitable methods of control based on the landholder’s selection.
All of the control methods recommended by the VEO align with best practice management. Demonstration videos are also available to enhance the user’s knowledge and experience.
The VEO was launched in December 2021 and early reports indicate it will be a highly useful tool for landholders. Reception from some councils impacted by the three pest species has also been positive. Many council officers reported that they would forward the VEO link to the increasing influx of new property owners moving out from the city who may be unfamiliar with the current best practice options for pest management.
Funding for the VEO was provided by the Australian Government in collaboration with Agriculture Victoria.
To access the tool go to https://virtualextensionofficer.com.au/
Nicole Garfi is Biosecurity Leader for the Victorian Gorse Taskforce at Agriculture Victoria.
For more information email the Victorian Gorse Taskforce at firstname.lastname@example.org