Taieri holidays inspired career path

Beef + Lamb New Zealand Genetics livestock specialist Jason Archer relaxes on a sheep statue in...
Beef + Lamb New Zealand Genetics livestock specialist Jason Archer relaxes on a sheep statue in central Dunedin. PHOTO: SHAWN MCAVINUE
An Australian boy’s dream of a career in the pastoral industries was born during an annual working holiday on a Strath Taieri farm.

The dream was realised by using the tools of science.

Jason Archer joined the Beef + Lamb New Zealand Genetics team at the start of this month.

Dr Archer was born and raised in Australia.

As a boy, he spent his summer holidays working on his grandfather’s farm at Lee Stream, about 40km northwest of Dunedin.

"That is what I lived for. I used to lose myself up there. That’s where I got the bug and it’s never left."

He had considered chasing a career in production farming but had been given "in retrospect, bad advice" from his "non-farming father" of "you’ve got brains, you’ve got to use them" and to go to university.

The mentality of farming being a simple profession was wrong.

"Running a farm is often a complex multimillion-dollar business, with a whole lot of regulations and constraints, which still needs to be profitable — of course it needs brains. It’s not a waste of brains to go and be a farmer but that was the advice I got."

Consequently, he became a livestock scientist, gaining a Phd in animal breeding in Adelaide.

After finishing his studies, he spent seven years working for the Department of Agriculture in New South Wales, researching cattle breeding and feed efficiency .

"I had a 400-cow Angus herd to work with."

In 2002, he moved across the Ditch to work at AgResearch at Invermay, near Mosgiel.

In the role, he helped set up the deer genetic evaluation system Deer Select.

After Invermay, he worked for Dunedin agribusiness consulting firm AbacusBio.

During his seven years at AbacusBio, he worked as a contractor on Beef + Lamb projects, which he would continue in his new role.

Other AbacusBio projects included working with international beef breed associations in Canada and the United States, such as American Angus — the biggest beef breeding association in the world.

In the livestock specialist role, Dr Archer would set the strategic direction of the department by seeking to understand the problems facing the sheep and beef industry and find the best science available to provide tools to help breeders make genetic gains in their animals.

Traditionally, genetics work focused on improving stock productivity and quality.

Now the brief has got "wider and wider" as farmers faced more issues and more solutions were needed.

A new project includes research to identify the types of rams which produced lambs with lower methane emissions.

"Genetics can be part of the solutions."

After a day working at Beef + Lamb in central Dunedin, Dr Archer returns home to run about 200 ewes on his 20ha farmlet on the Taieri.

"I love it — it’s part of me and what I want to do. I call it farming in the dark because that’s when it happens, especially this time of year."

The farmlet work helped him in his day job because it gave him an opportunity to think "through the lens of a farmer" about solutions for simple and practical problems facing the industry.

"Over the years that’s helped me hugely."

He was "happy" to work for Beef + Lamb as it was an "effective" organisation, working for farmers.

Beef + Lamb had analytic software which crunched data to produce estimated breeding values, ranking stock on a range of traits.

He "absolutely" believed in the data and wanted the industry to use it more.

Farmers should find the animals with the best figures and, from those, select the one that was the right animal for them.

A visual assessment of an animal was also required.

"Animals have to be functional — there’s no point selecting an animal with the best figures if it has an undershot jaw and can’t eat."

He was passionate" about working in the pastoral industries, "more so than the science".

Science was interesting but he viewed it as a tool to help farmers.

"It’s the industry that spins my wheels."


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