UGA Professor Works with Producers, Students to Improve Cattle Production in Georgia

Amanda Budd

Monday, December 5th, 2022

Growing up helping on his family’s cow-calf operation in Brazil, Pedro Fontes enjoyed being on the farm and working with cattle from a young age.

His childhood interest has manifested into a career spent working with producers and teaching undergraduate students about the beef industry. With dual roles in the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and UGA Cooperative Extension, Fontes engages with stakeholders and producers, as well as his students, to teach them about beef cattle reproduction and current technological advancements in the field.

He is inspired by working in a field that supplies food and reduces the strain of hunger.

“The big thing for me, and what makes my work feel really relevant, is being involved in an industry that’s feeding people,” said Fontes, assistant professor in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences’ animal and dairy science department. “I think there’s a lot of value to that.”

Fontes initially pursued veterinary school at São Paulo State University, where he focused on large animal veterinary medicine and obtained his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree. However, as Fontes began to think more about what he wanted to do after graduation, and with guidance from his previous mentors, he decided to pursue research.

“Research allows us to develop new practices and recommendations that can really benefit cattle producers in a large scale,” said Fontes.

With this in mind, he went on to earn his master’s degree and doctorate focusing on beef cattle reproductive physiology. “One thing that I always noticed was the gap between recent research developments in reproduction and the current adoption of reproductive technology by beef cattle producers,” said Fontes. “For that reason, I developed an interest in Extension, and I am currently working on increasing the number of producers that are taking advantage of these technologies.”

Fontes’ Extension work includes developing articles and communications about biotechnologies and other cattle production topics in collaboration with other members of the UGA Beef Team. Through UGA and a partnership with ABS Global, Fontes also hosts artificial insemination workshops that teach producers, students and others in the industry how to safely use and perform artificial insemination in cattle.

Artificial insemination, according to Fontes, can improve genetics in a herd and optimize reproductive efficiency.

“Reproductive efficiency is the main driver of profitability for cattle producers in Georgia. Technologies that optimize reproductive efficiency, such as estrus synchronization and artificial insemination, can really have an impact in our state,” he said.

Despite the benefits, Fontes said the practice is not widely used because not many producers feel comfortable incorporating it their production practices. His hope is that the workshops will prepare more farmers to confidently use the technology in their operations.

Assistant Professor Pedro Fontes, middle, talks to students before the start of their Heifer Development Lab class at the Double Bridges Farm in Winterville. (Photo by Andrew Davis Tucker/UGA)

Alexandra Thompson, a participant in one of his workshops, found the experience to be beneficial and said it’s easy to enjoy the process when learning from someone like Fontes.

“You can tell he really loves what he does,” she said.

Thompson, who is also a student in Fontes’ beef production class at UGA, said he approaches class with the same investment in his students and a hands-on approach.

“He’s not only teaching us, but he’s willing to learn from us too,” said Thompson. “He knows a lot and is always willing to help us learn more about what we’re interested in.”

Fontes tries to make his class helpful for his students by going beyond the science to teach practical skills in presenting information and interacting with others, valuable skills regardless of what industry they enter.

Fontes is especially passionate about the class because he thinks it’s vital for students to understand how it works even for those not planning to enter the beef industry.

“The beef industry plays an important role in our food supply, but not many people are directly involved in it, so there are a lot of misconceptions about how beef is produced,” said Fontes. “My hope is that even if my students don’t end up working in the beef industry, they can at least become advocates and help people gain a better understanding of how the industry really works.”