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Berry shipping cattle embryos to South America

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Posted: Tuesday, August 7, 2012 12:00 am

Very few of Berry College’s student-managed businesses get an order worth $27,000 at a time, but that’s just what the Berry Farms Genetics Enterprise is working to ship this week.

Shannon Soafer, a senior from Rossville, the interim leader of the Genetics Enterprise, said Monday that the business will be shipping 99 embryos taken from the college’s Jersey herd to a dairy in Argentina.

Berry Dairy Supervisor Ben Wilson said the South American dairy originally wanted 25-30 embryos but over the course of the several months, bumped that number up to almost 100.

Rebecca Stephens, a senior from Carrollton, who runs the business side of the genetics program, said the order from Argentina would go a long way toward recouping the expensive cost of harvesting, technically called flushing, the embryos.

“Over the year this last flush season, I think we spent about $10,000 flushing, that’s purely vet bills,” Stephens said. “It doesn’t count student labor or anything else. It can be expensive bit it’s well worth the price to get all these embryos.”

During the last five years, the genetics program has distributed embryos from the Berry herd to dairy producers all over the United States and this marks the second international shipment.

“Our first one was in January of 2010 and that was to a dairy in Jamaica,” Soafer said. “It was to help them learn to increase the technology within their herd with embryo transplants.”

Neither of the women came to Berry College with their focus on genetics.

Soafer wants a career related to the veterinary field and wanted to help develop a solid business background. “This kind of seems like it has the best of both worlds,” Soafer said.

Stephens said the genetics enterprise was looking for someone to run the business side of the venture and she is a business major who has a strong desire to become involved in agribusiness. “It was a really good fit for me to come in and learn how to run the business side of the enterprise,” Stephens said.

Wilson said the two students are typical of many who get involved with the genetic programs. “After two-three years in the program, most can go toe-to-toe with any of the agriculture majors,” Wilson said.

Many of the embryos being shipped to Argentina are particularly special because a large number of them were flushed from Medley, the last surviving Jersey cow born in the historic Normandy Barn complex on the Berry Mountain campus.

“We have about 25 female offspring from her specifically and they’re all over the county, all over the place,” Soafer said. Medley is 13 years old and one of her offspring was ranked among the top ten Jersey cows in the nation.

The rankings are done by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and are based on a variety of factors including genetic merit and a complex formula, which takes things like percentage of fat in milk, reproductive values and other factors into consideration.

Soafer, who is leading the Berry Genetics Enterprise during the summer while student CEO Dom Rivera is working an internship in the Savannah, said that Rivera’s goal is to make the Berry jersey herd the standard to beat both nationally and internationally.

Wilson said that the Berry students track the results of their embryo sales as best as they can, but that tracking the international sales in Jamaica and Argentina offers significant challenges.

He is hopeful that the success of the marketing to Argentina will lead to even more international sales and that, in turn, could result in international internships for the berry students to improve the learning experience and therefore better the students chances for success later in their business environment.

The best news at this point is that the dairy in Argentina has already requested another shipment of 100 embryos after the next flushing season.

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