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Not many people think of Plain City, Ohio, as a hub for a specialized product shipped around the world. But that’s become the case in the last 57 years as Select Sires Inc., a cooperative specializing in elite bovine genetics, has expanded from United States sales to exports sent to more than 90 countries.
“We’ve become a global company,” said Dr. Tony Good, vice president of production and operations. Yet, the operations are still run by farmer-owned and farmer-controlled member cooperatives across the United States. Four cooperatives started Select Sires in 1965, and now six cooperative members act as its marketing and service arms domestically. The company’s headquarters is in Plain City and it has two other main facilities where sires are housed, in Wisconsin and Illinois.
“It’s something we’re really proud of – that we’re owned by the people we serve,” said Leslie Maurice, director of communications.
One aspect of Select Sires that’s grown exponentially is its research and development arm. Bo Harstine, director of research, said scientific advances in data collection, genetics and reproductive management has meant a better product.
Harstine prefers the term “bovine genetics” when talking about what Select Sires produces and sells, which is mainly frozen bull sperm for dairy and beef cows.
“Our research can range from looking at the fertility of the product to the genetics and characteristics of the animals it will create,” Harstine said. “And a lot of research is increasingly focused on sustainability, both from a business and environmental perspective, from the welfare of the animals to their health and productivity. We look at, for example, how we can help our farmer-owners efficiently produce healthier dairy cows that will make milk with less inputs, all while lowering impact on the environment.”
The overall goal, he said, is to provide the very best genetics with the highest possible on-farm fertility to increase farmers’ profitability.
Where’s the (best) beef?
The breadth of research in bovine genetics has increased rapidly in the past two decades. Select Sires was the first company to take gender-selected semen to the marketplace in 2008 and continues to work toward the successful use of that product, Harstine said.
“There’s an ever-increasing amount of knowledge to incorporate,” he said, as well as data feedback from farmers about fertility and production metrics. He and his colleagues often work with universities like Ohio State University and with other companies to improve both fertility and genetics.
“Holistically, we’re trying to make sure our industry is sustainable, the cows are healthy and that we best support the production of healthy beef and dairy foods,” Harstine said. “It surprises our neighbors how much science and technology goes into the business.”
One big change over the years has been in the number of bulls Select Sires offers.
“We used to have 200 to 250 sires being collected annually, and now we collect from about 1,500 bulls, and many of them are younger,” Good said. The majority are between 2 and 3 years old, but the herd ranges in age from 45 days old to 12 years old, Harstine said. Semen is collected from most sires twice a week.
The bulk of the sires are kept at Select Sires’ Plain City location on Rt. 42, where about 230 of the company’s more than 2,000 global employees work. The location has become more and more residential in recent years, and Select Sires has worked hard to make sure it’s a good neighbor, Good said.
Harstine came to Select Sires as a result of one of its outreach efforts – internships. Each summer about a dozen interns work at the Plain City location; some have internships throughout the school year, and interns are also hired at other Select Sires locations.
“Working at Select Sires combines all of my interests in science and agriculture and being part of the community,” said Harstine, who is a Franklin County Farm Bureau member. “The internship really opened my eyes and solidified my belief that I wanted to do this as a career.”
Harstine grew up on a Dundee, Ohio, dairy farm and realized in college that he wanted a career in agriculture. At Select Sires he worked as a research intern as well as a laboratory research and semen-processing technician and eventually earned his master’s and doctorate degrees at Ohio State within the department of animal sciences. Now, he’s also an OSU adjunct professor in addition to his work at Select Sires.
Good said the company also tries to be a good environmental steward. At its Plain City location, for example, the 40,000 tons of manure the bulls produce a year is recycled for use by other farmers and is turned into compost at Price Farms Organics in Delaware, Ohio.
Research will continue to be an important part of Select Sires’ business, Harstine said, particularly in the areas of traceability and transparency.
“Consumers are more interested than ever before in where their products are coming from and where they were made,” he said. “We are looking forward to the future when consumers are going to be able to know when they buy a steak where the animal it came from was born, raised and processed. It’s what consumers want, and I’m proud of our company’s role in working towards making it a reality.”
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