Meet Bayer’s Youth Ag Summit Delegate: Cameron Olson
The average age of a farmer in today’s world is 60-years-old. As a recent Master’s graduate from Texas A&M University’s Department of Animal Science, Cameron Olson, from Alberta, Canada has already committed himself to a lifelong goal of working in the cattle industry and improving the sustainability and efficiency of beef production. He plans to pursue his PhD at the University of Alberta after participating in the 2017 Youth Ag Summit in Brussels, Belgium this October.
Nearly 13 years ago to the day, I was introduced to an animal that changed the course of my life. In late 2004, I was beginning my third year in Alberta 4-H, and I wanted a heifer project desperately. Fortunately, I was a persuasive young man, and I convinced my parents to let me buy an ugly little grey heifer from them.
That little grey Simmental-cross heifer (with a lazy eye and a stubby horn on one side) and I became instant friends. We worked on halter breaking, leading, standing in the show-ring, and all manner of other activities to prepare for the summer junior show circuit. At the end of the day, Duchess, as she was christened, became my first cow, and effectively started my love for cattle- that ugly, big, fat old cow was ground zero for the rest of my life.
Duchess, the cow that started it all.
After 4-H and high school ended, I decided to attend one of the premier animal science departments in the world to pursue a Bachelor’s degree. I drove from Calgary, Alberta, to College Station, Texas- nearly 3300 km- and started school in the fall of 2011 at Texas A&M University (Gig ‘em, Aggies!). There, I attended many football games at Kyle Field with 105,000 of my closest friends, spent three whole semesters in meat packing plants across America as a member of the 2013 Texas A&M Intercollegiate Meats Judging Team, and, most importantly, I developed and matured my interest in animal agriculture and the beef cattle industry. I enjoyed learning about beef cattle so much, that I stayed 2 more years in the same department at Texas A&M to pursue a Master’s degree.
Some of the 2013 Texas A&M Meats Judging Team (L-R: Mallorie Phelps, Cameron Olson, Drew Cassens, and Courtney Hemphill)
I find ruminants, and cattle in particular, fascinating because of their ability to convert even the most marginal of land into a usable product- whether that’s in the form of beef from cattle, milk from goats, wool from sheep, or draught power from water buffalo. Ruminant livestock have a unique place in the food chain, because they can be raised pretty much anywhere on pretty much anything, in places where crops will not grow or cannot be harvested.
My international experiences have taken me through the Caribbean, Central America, the United States, and South Africa; the one unifying thing I have noticed about each place I have visited, is that there is land and forage available for ruminant livestock that cannot be crop farmed. Whether it’s dry, arid scrubland in central northern Mexico, steep Colorado River valleys, or South African veld, cattle, goats, and sheep can be effectively raised on these parcels of otherwise barren land, and their meat and milk can be used to feed people. Feeding people, particularly in a sustainable manner, must be the ultimate goal of agriculture in any form.
The Olson herd coming to investigate the feed truck in late summer, southern Alberta. Most of our cattle are purebred Limousin, with a few commercial cattle as well. While she was alive, Duchess was the herd matriarch.
In particular, I love the beef industry in North America, because we are on the very cutting edge of using technology to raise cattle efficiently, while improving quality and safety for the consumer. Feedlots today can produce tonnes more beef, with fewer inputs, in a safer manner, and with higher beef quality, than any other beef production method. North American cow-calf producers have almost universally accepted and implemented the use of genetic analyses to select and breed cattle, which are more efficient and require less feed to reach their ideal weight. The beef cattle industry in Canada has also mandated that all cattle must have a tracking ear tag, so that in event of a disease outbreak, all cattle can be traced through to their herd of origin. These are exciting times in the beef industry, as we consider how we might fine-tune the bovine industry to maximize output and minimize input. It’s like we are trying to get the fuel efficiency of a small car into the power and size of a heavy-duty truck. It’s challenging, it’s innovative, and it helps to feed people all over the world through beef exports from North America. Duchess, my first 4-H heifer, is the reason I fell in love with cattle. Technology, innovation, and advancement in an industry which supplies food and nutrition to people are the reason I have stayed in love with beef cattle.
I recently travelled to South Africa to meet my girlfriend’s family, but a visit to some farms was necessary, including seeing this Limousin bull in Tulbagh, Western Cape.
I am very excited to attend the Youth Ag Summit in Brussels, Belgium, this fall. While I have several international livestock conferences under my belt, I have never attended a conference of this magnitude, with so many young people from so many countries, with so many experiences and backgrounds. I look forward to bringing a Canadian beef industry perspective to the discussions, and I am honored that Bayer and the selection committee granted me this opportunity. I can think of no better way to start a PhD in Animal Science than with a healthy dose of international, broad-based perspective from my peers. After earning my PhD, I hope to work in research or consulting for the beef industry in Alberta and Canada- with a hobby of keeping a few ugly, fat old cows around to chase from time to time.