Young Albertan brings cattle perspective to global conference

Cameron Olson is a young beef scientist who is going places.

The 24-year-old from Rocky View, is one of four Canadian agricultural leaders participating in Bayer’s Youth Ag Summit in Brussels in October.

“My intent for being part of this conference is to make sure animal agriculture is represented as well as crop,” said Olson, who is finishing up a master’s degree in animal science at Texas A&M near Houston.

“Combined, they’re pretty powerful, but if you isolate and just try and improve crops or just try and improve livestock, that’s when we get into trouble. Combining the two and making sure they’re both being used to their ultimate potential is very important.”

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Olson, who has a longtime involvement with 4-H beef, will be joining other 18- to 25-year-olds from 49 countries at the youth summit, where attendees will discuss solutions for feeding a global population expected to reach nine billion by 2050.

Born in Calgary, he moved to the family ranch in Rocky View at age 10. The family began raising Limousin cattle and Olson showed cattle in purebred shows across the Prairies. The youth summit will not be the first time he has drawn on his cattle expertise in an international context.

“As part of my master’s program, I was sent to the Dominican Republic in the summer of 2016,” he said. “I was there for six weeks with another master’s student and together we were working with a producer on the island.”

The producer, who had 500 head of mixed breed, tropically adapted cattle, was feeding cow-calf pairs on grass. The two students worked with him to improve his production practices by evaluating records of cow longevity and productivity, and then sorting cows into groups for crossbreeding programs.

“We just helped him set up new methods for monitoring health and cow productivity,” said Olson, adding the pro-ject is an ongoing Texas A&M initiative.

He also worked in Mexico to collect data in a beef production plant near the California border, and has attended the International Livestock Congress in both Calgary and Houston.

“Both of those events were more focused on international livestock production, but had a very obvious turn to the international effects and how we can use livestock internationally,” he said.

The upcoming Youth Ag Summit is a biannual conference designed to connect young leaders who work in agriculture-related disciplines. It started in Calgary in 2013, with the second one in Sydney two years ago. This fall, the 100 delegates will be asked to brainstorm and come up with new ideas and methods to improve both crop and livestock production in a sustainable manner. Not everyone has an ag background, noted Olson.

“I’m kind of excited to be in a room where not everybody has an agriculture degree. Some of these kids are going to be engineers, some of them are going to be on the political science end of the spectrum. They all have an interest in improving agriculture around the world.”

Nearly 1,200 students from 95 countries submitted a 1,500-word essay on food security. Three other Canadians (two from Atlantic Canada and one from Ontario) were among those chosen.

After defending his thesis in Texas, Olson will be returning home to pursue a PhD in beef cattle efficiency at the University of Alberta, under the supervision of scientist John Basarab.

“My ultimate long-term goal is to improve production practices surrounding beef cattle,” he said. “Whether that’s locally in Alberta, Canada or internationally, I just haven’t established that yet.

“But I feel that agriculture and beef cattle production are very important pieces to improving the lives of people around the world in terms of providing them nutrition and a source of income and something they can do and be proud of. So, anything that can improve the ability of people to raise their own livestock and do it effectively and efficiently and use the resources that are available to them to do so — that’s my big goal.”

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, she has also published two collections of poetry and a biography about a Sikh civil rights activist. Her freelance work has appeared in numerous publications across Canada.

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