Arthur Rickards, who made an enormous contribution to genetic progress and agribusiness in the Australia beef cattle industry over close to half a century, has passed away aged 77, following a long battle with illness.
A remarkable man who has made a remarkable contribution to Australian agriculture through vision, determination, doggedness and sheer hard work, Mr Rickards spent four decades initiating and driving the Agricultural Business Research Institute out of Armidale in NSW.
His defining achievement from the beef industry’s perspective was arguably the development and implementation of today’s BreedPlan, the industry’s world-class objective performance recording system now widely used across Australia and a number of overseas countries.
Born Philip Arthur Rickards, he grew up in rural Queensland near Maryborough. After completing an agricultural science degree at the University of Queensland, he moved to Armidale and completed a Diploma of Agriculture at the University of New England.
Mr Rickards established the Agricultural Business Research Institute in July 1970 with just two staff, armed with a bunch of dreams about how to facilitate the adoption of University of New England technology across rural industries. The original home of ABRI was a modest gardener’s cottage on the UNE campus.
Over the next 40 years under his guidance, ABRI developed and/or implemented many of the innovative technologies that have made significant contributions to Australian agriculture, particularly in its livestock industries.
Broken down by the decades in which they first appeared, these included:
- 1970s – Launching of the National Beef Recording Scheme; farm financial benchmarking; and farm financial planning using linear programming
- 1980s – The adventurous New England Computerised Marketing sale-by-description system for livestock, the predecessor to Computer Aided Livestock Marketing (CALM), and later still, today’s Auctions Plus; Rejuvenating Australia’s beef genetic resources after 40 years of closure, through the importation of cattle via Cocos Island Quarantine Station.
- 1990s – International marketing of breed registry and Breedplan systems; establishment of Tropical Beef Technology Services (TBTS), a new generation beef breeding extension program.
- 2000s – Internet Solutions information system; the ILR2 advanced breed registry system; Sub-contract management of certification of genetic exports – providing quality control to Australia’s genetic exports worldwide; Establishment of Southern Beef Technology Services – with TBTS this has created a national new-generation beef breeding extension service; Launch of HerdMASTER 4, a new release of the Saltbush Herd Management System with on-farm and central functionality.
The provision of high quality breed registry databases and the Breedplan Genetic Analysis system enabled ABRI to expand its services internationally, so that by 2010 ABRI had a presence in some 20 countries including the US, Canada, the UK, South Africa and New Zealand.
By 2010, ABRI had some 60 employees and an annual turnover of around $10 million.
Mr Rickards developed a reputation as an opportunist if there was government funding available for innovative projects or a government department which was looking for a third party to provide genetic evaluation services. The fact that ABRI to this day holds the contracts for genetic evaluation for all of New Zealand, most of the UK and a good slice of South Africa and Namibia was not just luck.
He established and cultivated a huge network of contacts among fellow undergraduates, university academics and researchers, agribusiness stakeholders and cattle producers which he utilised widely.
In his younger life he loved sport, becoming a Queensland junior champion middle distance runner and one of only a handful of people who carried the Olympic torch for the 1956 and 2000 Australian Olympics.
After formal retirement in 2011, he continued on in a part time business management role at ABRI and even after his collapse in the Qantas Club in 2012 and subsequent struggle with liver disease he continued working for ABRI on a part time basis.
In 2017, he took on the role as president of the Australian Registered Cattle Breeders Association, the peak body for breed associations which he founded with his great friend Dick Vincent in about 1975.
He organised the inaugural Young Breed leaders Workshop which was held in Brisbane in late 2017 and has organised the second such conference to be held in Armidale in October this year.
Mr Rickards received an Order of Australia medal in 1996 and an Honorary Doctorate by the University of New England in 2003, in recognition of his achievements and contribution to Australian agriculture.
- A memorial service will be held from 11am on Monday 29 April at the Uniting Church in Armidale where he and his wife Deidre were married in December 1970.