Steve Miller, Director of AGBU, recently announced the passing of former AGBU and DPI staff member, Dr Stephen ‘Steve’ Barwick.

“It is with sadness that I convey the news of the passing of another stalwart of our industry. I had the privilege of spending sometime at AGBU in the mid and late 1990’s and getting to know Steve and interacting with him.  He was a kind and gentle soul. I know anyone who worked with Steve will be saddened by this news.  As fate would have it, on the day of his passing AGBU was hosting a workshop in Armidale with over 40 scientists and industry stakeholders to discuss the development and deployment of breeding tools to support beef and sheep production with lower emissions.  Steve’s work was quoted many times that day and I thought how much Steve would have appreciated the day and to see where his foundational work and foresight has contributed to the future.  He leaves a legacy. My colleagues who knew him much better than I have written tributes below.”

Vale Steve Barwick by Rob Banks on behalf of Steve’s many colleagues

 Steve Barwick was a deeply valued and indeed loved colleague for the team at AGBU and for a wider circle of workmates.

He was essentially a shy person, not one to raise his voice in debate preferring to steadily and thoroughly amass the insights and facts to be shared with others when Steve thought his message had the chance to be heard.

His natural caution was allied to a deep commitment to his community – the farmers and farming community that his family were part of, and the wider community of ordinary people who depend on farmers for safe, nutritious food. Steve felt and took his responsibility to the community seriously, reflecting in part his deep understanding of the power of genetics and animal breeding to be a force for good, and of the costs of getting it wrong.

He loved sport – football in its various forms, horse-racing, and most deeply, cricket. His insights into not just the immediate action but also the deeper trends and strategies, like the wise old cocky leaning on the fence, were a delight and an education.

He honoured the best traditions and culture of science, including the responsibility to mentor younger colleagues – something he did with patience, thoroughness and humour.

His life’s work has been to help breeders, most particularly in beef cattle, breed animals that are better suited to the needs of today and of the future – his philosophy expressed “balanced breeding” more fully and earlier than almost anyone. His work on handling feed and methane in breeding objectives sets industry up for the very serious challenges now looming, and his careful work on addressing multi- or across-breed evaluation will help ensure that genetic resources across breeds can be used most appropriately.

Steve was a man of time – he thought deeply into the future, he took time to formulate his thoughts and insights and convert them into powerful tools for others to use, and he took time to express his thoughts in words. He was always so careful to avoid the wrong words or phrases, in part because of his respect for the feelings and value of each human being.

He was a man of the long game; a tortoise seeing and going far beyond the scatter-brained attention-seeking hares; and a person for whom doing things right and doing the right thing were two sides of the same coin. And usually with a sort of twinkle in his eye and voice.

Steve – we will all miss you dearly, and your legacy will stand us all in good stead for the challenges ahead.

Tribute to Steve Barwick in support of his AAABG Fellow award, by David Johnston

Steve Barwick graduated with Honours from Sydney University in 1972, and commenced work with NSW Agriculture at Glen Innes as a Livestock Officer (Sheep & Wool). Part of his duties was to run a lamb carcase grading trial with Professor Neil Yeates of the University of New England. He moved into research in 1974 and his carcase work became an MSc in 1979. He was promoted to Principal Research Scientist in 2009.

In 1985 Steve took up an AMLRDC overseas study award to do a PhD in genetics under Walt Harvey at Colombus, Ohio. While there he studied selection index theory under Frank Allaire, worked with Kreg Leymaster and John Keele on sheep data from USDA Clay Centre, and was fortunate to interact with Bruce Griffing, Sid Young and Charles Henderson, who was visiting Ohio State. The time spent in the US was instrumental in Steve realizing his ambition was to utilize knowledge for the benefit of industry, and this was to prove the driver of his career.

Coming from a family background in sheep and cattle breeding, Steve was eminently suited to returning to AGBU, which he did in 1989. He became Associate Editor of the Journal of Animal Science, was Leader of NSW Agriculture’s Beef Breeding and Evaluation Team, co-supervised PhD and other students, published 170 papers, and was an invited speaker and chairperson at numerous AAABG conferences. His more recent work included how to select to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in beef cattle simultaneously with making economic improvement, and how to select across as well as within breeds. 

Perhaps the best known outputs of Steve’s research are the BreedObject analytical software and web-based delivery systems for selection index construction and delivery that are used in all major Australian beef cattle breeds and in New Zealand, the UK, South Africa, Namibia and Argentina. The more than 80 indexes that are in regular use are calculated for 1.8 million seedstock in Australia, and 3.2 million internationally, affecting the breeding directions of cattle breeding world-wide. Steve’s innovative leadership has been crucial to this transformation to performance-based decision making. He also instigated a facility for ranking animals for production systems internationally, encouraging semen and seedstock trade.

Steve’s research has been pivotal to improving the efficiency, profitability and sustainability of Australia’s livestock industries. He has led the research into beef cattle breeding objectives and selection indexes for the national and international application of BREEDPLAN genetic evaluation, and the resulting genetic gain has been calculated to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars to the beef industry. Steve’s research and innovative leadership is a road map for the best use of new genetic technologies, and his developments are likely to be even more important in the years ahead.