Cameron Olson (24), was born and raised in Calgary, Alberta. The third-generation farmer completed his Bachelor’s degree and Master’s degree in Animal Science at Texas A&M University, and will be starting his Doctorate in Animal Science in 2018. He’s passionate about providing sustainable, nutrient-dense, animal-sourced foods as part of the effort to supply food to the world’s increasing population.
My grandparents purchased the farm I live on in 1969, and they quickly became involved in the Alberta beef industry. Grandma and Grandpa were early participants in the Limousin breed’s start in Canada, purchasing some breeding animals in the mid-1970s. I loved going to spend time at the farm when I was young, even though the cattle were sold by the time I came along.
Being born and raised in Calgary, I was used to urban life, but in 2002 my parents bought the farm from my grandmother. Suddenly, the place that I had found so peaceful during weekend visits became home, and the following year, I joined my local 4-H club. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was a defining moment that would shape the next 15 years of my life. 4-H fostered my interest in agriculture, particularly livestock, through beef steer, heifer, and cow-calf projects. The value of 4-H in my youth is inexpressible- simply, I wouldn’t be where I am right now, if I hadn’t gone through the 4-H program.
Showing a purebred Limousin heifer at the Calgary Stampede International Youth Livestock Show, 2006.
My interest in beef cattle took me a long way from home, all the way down to College Station, Texas and Texas A&M University. While at university, one of the most important experiences I had was being part of the 2013 Texas A&M Intercollegiate Meats Judging Team, which involved adjudicating beef, pork, and lamb carcasses and cuts for quality, yield, and value. Prior to joining the 2013 meats team, I had little experience with the meat products and processes of turning animals into food. My experience had only been with live animals up until this point, but being a member of the meats team showed me the entire animal agriculture process. It exposed me to slaughter, processing, packaging, and retailing of beef, lamb, pork, and poultry, and solidified that the science of feeding cattle is very connected to the science of meat quality and yield. What happens in the feedyard has real impacts on muscle and fat biology, which impact consumer acceptance through sensory factors like flavour and tenderness. While I still prefer to work with live animals, my time with the 2013 meats team gave me a better appreciation of the scope and importance of the entire animal agriculture industry.
My grandparents, Wayne and Betty Morris (far and second from the left), and a yearling bull they raised.My grandparents, Wayne and Betty Morris (far and second from the left), and a yearling bull they raised.
As I look forward to my PhD at the University of Alberta, I’m focusing on how to reduce methane emissions and other greenhouse gasses from cattle by manipulating the rumen microbiome – essentially, finding ways to control the bacterial populations in the rumen to reduce the production of methane, using all types of technology, from management to pharmaceuticals to cattle genetics. Energy from cattle feed is lost through the emission of gasses from the rumen. Reducing the amount of energy released from cattle as gas can and does improve feed efficiency through greater energy retention. Feed-efficient cattle consume less feed for each unit of weight they gain, so less input is required to produce the same or even more beef. The beef industry faces some challenges in improving production, and solid research into new or improved technology and management is an essential tool.
The upcoming Youth-Ag Summit is going to be a great venue to connect and interact with other like-minded youth. Bringing all of these young people together gives us a chance to improve agriculture as a whole. We need to work to make farming more attractive as an occupation, and that starts with making it more profitable. People will not continue to take up farming, if they know that there will be long, hard hours with little to show for it; we cannot ask farmers to farm for free. One does not need to look very far to see massive barriers for young people who wish to start farming, not least of which is the capital required to get set up. Further, there seems to be a sense of fear in the consumer, especially in developed nations, when considering GMO technology and how it’s used to grow food. If farmers continue to be told that their new methods are wrong, that they’re destroying nature, and that they’re purposefully harming the consumer, fewer and fewer people will want to farm even if they have the capital and desire to do so. Retaining young people in agricultural is only getting harder, and a lot needs to be done to ensure that we have the people to raise or grow the food to feed the world. Without farmers there would be no food, regardless of how much technology is involved. Together, participants at the Youth-Ag Summit have an opportunity to address these challenges together to create change for the world’s population.
A small portion of the 2013 Texas A&M Meats Judging Team (L-R, Mallorie Phelps, Cameron Olson, Drew Cassens, and Courtney Hemphill) on campus at Texas A&M University.
About the Youth Ag-Summit
The Youth Ag-Summit is a global bi-annual conference designed to inspire and connect the next generation of young leaders in agriculture and related disciplines. In 2017, 100 young leaders aged 18 to 25 will meet in Brussels, Belgium, to create an open dialogue on one of the world’s most challenging questions: how to feed a hungry planet? Following previous editions hosted in Canada and Australia, this year’s Summit is the first to be held in a European city. The Youth Ag-Summit is part of Bayer’s Agricultural Education Program which aims to raise global awareness about farming and food supplies. Find out more about the Program at www.ag-education.bayer.com, www.facebook.com/BayerAgEdu/, or on Twitter @BayerAgEdu.