Colleagues mourn the loss of respected livestock scientist who aimed to empower sheep breeders

Beef+Lamb NZ has reported the untimely passing of AgResearch Senior Scientist Dr Sheryl-Anne Newman on Monday.

Sheryl-Anne was an integral part of Sheep Improvement Limited (SIL) and a cornerstone of the Science and Technical Teams at AgResearch and Beef + Lamb New Zealand Genetics.

SIL was established in 1999 when Meat New Zealand and the New Zealand Wool Board sought to bring together the rival genetic improvement services established through the 1980s and 1990s.

In a tribute to Sheryl-Anne today, Beef+Lamb colleagues describe her as a highly respected and beloved colleague, friend, and mentor to all those who were lucky enough to know her.

Sheryl-Anne’s working career was dedicated to empowering breeders and the advancement of New Zealand Agriculture. The New Zealand sheep industry has benefited hugely from Sheryl-Anne’s dedication in this space which was instrumental in SIL’s success.

She was recognised nationally for her work with SIL – receiving the Sir Arthur Ward Award in 2017, presented by the New Zealand Society of Animal Production.

Sheryl-Anne was generous in sharing her knowledge and time to support anyone who needed her help. Well known for her vast knowledge and authenticity, she will be sorely missed by all of us.

Sheryl-Anne was only the second woman to receive the Sir Arthur Ward Award in its 40-year history., having been involved with SIL – the national performance recording service for the sheep industry – since its inception.

The award’s citation said she had worked at the ”coalface”, applying research into new traits or making improvements to the genetic evaluation of existing traits, meticulously testing and validating the results, and working with breeders through any implementation issues that had occurred to deliver a state-of-the-art genetic improvement system.

”Sheryl-Anne has been the engineer in SIL’s genetic engine room for close to two decades, the skilled mechanic overseeing its operation and maintenance.

”The New Zealand sheep industry has benefited hugely from what is arguably the world’s best sheep genetic evaluation system. Sheryl-Anne’s dedication to SIL support has been a key plank in SIL’s success,” it said.

Her logical approach to problem-solving and her ability to explain things to users from different backgrounds had been key attributes contributing to SIL’s success.

The Otago Daily Times reported that since the launch of SIL, there had been major advances in what could be measured in animals to use in genetic improvement programmes.

That included CT scanning, in-plant carcass scanning, genomic tests for parentage and for performance traits.

The ODT quoted from the award  citation.

While many scientists had worked in their individual fields, Dr Newman had to develop knowledge across all fields so the new trait measurements could be entered into the SIL database, and be included into analyses without affecting existing results.

Her work on enhancements to the SIL system had increased the number of traits analysed, improved the accuracy of evaluations, and introduced auditing tools designed to lift data quality.

The sustained improvement in genetic merit of New Zealand sheep, and accelerations in the rate at which that had occurred, were all partly due to those improvements.

Without those gains, today’s sheep farms would be a lot less profitable, the citation said.

After graduating from Massey University, Sheryl-Anne was based in Palmerston North and at Flock House, near Bulls, before shifting south about 15 years before recognised with the award.

She had worked in various different areas, including research on sheep, goats and alpacas, but the majority of the time had been spent on SIL.

The ODT reported she never tired of that work, saying it was delivering new developments to the sheep industry all the time.

There was plenty more to work on, particularly in terms of animal welfare and the global perspective, such as methane, along with new traits being developed in the genomics space ”all the time”.

She had no regrets about her chosen career, saying she would ”still choose to do it”.

”I enjoy my job and what I do.”

Sources:  Beef+Lamb NZ and the Otago Daily Times




Author: Bob Edlin

Editor of AgScience Magazine and Editor of the AgScience Blog