VegNET 3.0 is a strategic levy investment under the Hort Innovation Fund. It strives to improve Australian vegetable growers’ knowledge and skills to implement best practice management on-farm through a variety of delivery mechanisms.

This investment acts as a knowledge broker to link growers with the best science and tools to meet their individual business development goals, as well as linking the rest of industry with growers to help focus R&D efforts.

At the forefront of the project are highly skilled and trained extension experts, known as Regional Development Officers (RDOs). Their focus is on delivering results for growers, while forming a key link in providing information and feedback into the levy investment system to ensure that R&D priorities are delivering on key industry issues.

In this edition of Vegetables Australia, RDOs Michael Bartholomew (Western Australia), Bonnie Dawson (Gippsland), Sylvia Jelinek (New South Wales) and Ossie Lang (Tasmania) introduce themselves to readers and outline their priorities for the third iteration of the nationally-coordinated, regionally-delivered VegNET project.


Name: Bonnie Dawson

Bonnie Dawson is the VegNET RDO for the Gippsland region in Victoria.

Region: Gippsland

Organisation: Food & Fibre Gippsland   


Bonnie grew up on her family’s property in Central Gippsland. After moving to Melbourne and studying health sciences and international development straight out of school, Bonnie moved back to Gippsland to work in health promotion locally, promoting physical activity and healthy eating to the local community.

As the focus of her role shifted to strengthening our local food system, Bonnie realised that food production could bring together most of her interests, so she decided to undertake a post-grad diploma in agricultural sciences.

The opportunity to work with VegNET was Bonnie’s first foray into horticulture, and she has been in the role for just over two years.

Being a VegNET Regional Development Officer has given Bonnie a great insight into so many aspects of the industry, including how significantly public policy affects the industry – which has been emphasised by the current workforce and supply chain challenges presented by COVID-19.

Bonnie is looking forward to building momentum behind the strategy that the RDOs have developed and is hoping to get back on-farm more than the past 18 months.

She is proud of the positive relationships and partnerships developed during VegNET 2.0 despite being stuck at home for a lot of that time and is hoping that the VegNET – Gippsland strategy can support the industry to develop further, and bring the region’s growers the value they want and deserve.

Bonnie is also looking forward to progressing plans on projects such as workforce development with Raising Aspirations in Careers and Education – Gippsland (RACE – Gippsland), along with bringing agronomists together for better regional pest and disease management.

Additionally, Bonnie is working towards the next iteration of the East Gippsland Vegetable Innovation Days.

She’s also currently overseeing a demonstration site of soil moisture monitors, which has been a great practical learning opportunity.

With the support of some of Food & Fibre Gippsland’s other projects, Bonnie hopes that over the next five years she will see an increase in the industry’s social license and the community’s awareness of Gippsland’s highly productive vegetable industry, taking pride in its produce and recognising the many career pathways it offers.


Name: Michael Bartholomew

Michael Bartholomew, VegNET – Western Australia RDO.

Region: Western Australia

Organisation: vegetablesWA

Farming and agriculture have always been constants in Michael’s life. Growing up in the city, as a child he would visit family farms during the school holidays. Helping to feed chooks and pat cows eventually turned into picking fruit, wielding chainsaws and driving farm vehicles.

At school, Michael developed a passion for biology, and he targeted a career pathway that incorporated this passion with agriculture. Graduating with a Bachelor of Agribusiness from Curtin University, Michael wanted to enter the horticulture sector as he was intrigued by the diversity of the industry and familiar with its nature.

Completing the degree instilled an understanding of the uncommon relationship between science and business management – a partnership unique to the agricultural industry, and Michael aims to deliver extension services that focus on leveraging that connection.

Michael joined vegetablesWA as the VegNET – Western Australia Regional Development Officer (RDO) at the end of 2021. Over the past three months, he has developed his knowledge on extension theory and become actively involved in industry activities.

Over the next 12 months, Michael will be undertaking projects covering aspects of biosecurity, sustainability and business management. He is aiming to work collaboratively with other RDOs and experts from across Australia to develop biosecurity resources and language resources for non-English speaking vegetable growers.

Michael also plans on researching and developing case studies on implementing economically and environmentally sustainable technologies and practices on-farm, such as alternate heating and energy sources.

Presently, the key focus is on preparing vegetable businesses for the impacts of COVID-19 on their workforce, ensuring business continuity as well as promoting discussion around business risk management. Another current project is promoting the uptake of data-driven decision making in irrigation timings to ensure the most sustainable use of water and labour resources.

Over the next five years, Michael hopes to widen his network and meet new experts, as well as forge strong relationships with WA’s vegetable growers. He looks forward to developing long-term research projects and utilising those to make positive lasting impacts that will strengthen the state’s vegetable sector.

Name: Sylvia Jelinek  

Region: New South Wales 

Organisation: Greater Sydney Local Land Services

VegNET – New South Wales RDO Sylvia Jelinek.

Sylvia Jelinek has always had a keen eye for plant life, mostly flowers and vegetables. After high school, she worked in the flower industry before venturing to university to complete her Bachelor in Horticulture, majoring in Integrated Pest Management (IPM).

Sylvia was lucky enough to score university work placement with the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries (NSW DPI) and remained there until she was offered the VegNET NSW role with Greater Sydney Local Land Services, which she has held since June 2018. Sylvia has 12 years’ experience working for NSW DPI in vegetable IPM extension, citrus micrografting, lab-based molecular biology, right down to nursery and field work.

Emergency management has been a focus in the past couple of years following bushfires, floods and exotic plant pest incursions like the serpentine leafminer. Having relationships with vegetable growers was invaluable for Sylvia during this time and made it easier to assist them through the challenges faced.

Sylvia’s really looking forward to getting my hands dirty and hitting the fields, nurseries and greenhouses around NSW, meeting new people and gaining some ground through extension activities.

The focuses for the NSW region over the coming year include:

  • Water and nutrient management in protected cropping.
  • Pest and disease management, including biosecurity and farm hygiene.
  • Community of practice in soil health for the Australian-Chinese growers and Australian-Cambodian growers in and around Greater Sydney as well as field growers across the region.
  • Farm innovation and technology – Precision irrigation and nutrition management in sweet corn.

This year is mapped out with many activities, extension events and workshops planned for all four topics, with the capacity to reach out and assist those in need when required to do so – ensuring that nobody falls through the cracks.

Sylvia is hoping to increase vegetable levy payers’ knowledge and give them tools to improve their businesses through R&D extension and feeding back to the researchers the needs of the vegetable industry, so that R&D can happen for the right reasons.

She is also looking to empower growers to make positive changes on-farm and run a more profitable enterprise, while delivering high-quality vegetables for Australia and the export market.


Name: Ossie Lang

Region: Tasmania  

Organisation: RM Consulting Group (RMCG)

Ossie Lang is the VegNET RDO based in Tasmania.

Ossie grew up in Tasmania and became interested in agriculture through a University of Tasmania summer program. He went to the mainland to study and after some overseas travel, ended up in shipping and logistics roles.

The pull of the Tasmanian agricultural industry was too strong, and Ossie has been back in Tasmania for seven years now. He has worked with a biotech company, rural retailer, and small consultancy firm before becoming the VegNET – Tasmania Regional Development Officer in mid-2020.

Ossie has been in the role for around 18 months and has learnt a lot – more than he thought possible. Every farmer and their operation is different, even when from the same industry. The diverse mix of agricultural enterprises in Tasmania means that there is always something more to learn and solutions for one grower may not apply for their neighbour.

Ossie’s looking forward to strengthening the relationships developed in the previous iterations of VegNET and seeing some long-term results in Tasmania’s identified focus areas. He is also looking forward to working more with the other RDOs in the areas of shared interest and looking over the fence to see what can be brought to Tasmania to support the industry.

There are five focus topics in Tasmania: biosecurity, herbicide resistance, precision ag, soil management and training. Ossie will be working throughout the year to ensure that vegetable growers’ training needs are met, as well as building on the cross-industry herbicide resistance workshop held in 2021 to tackle resistance issues across the crops grown in rotation with vegetables.

Ossie hopes to achieve some on-the-ground gains for growers through the focus areas. He would like to see vegetable production increase in value at a high level alongside agricultural industries. At farm level, Ossie hopes that growers can point to beneficial changes made on their property due to participating in VegNET.

Tasmanian growers are invited to give Ossie a call to talk about current activities and how VegNET can support their operation.


VegNET 3.0 is a strategic levy investment under the Hort Innovation Vegetable Fund.

This project has been funded by Hort Innovation using the vegetable research and development levy and contributions from the Australian Government.

Project Number: VG21000