Dr Hillerton says one of the most rewarding parts of being a scientist with DairyNZ is the direct involvement with dairy farmers, understanding the real problems on farms and helping develop solutions and new technologies.
"Much of the value of that science lies in taking research and knowledge directly to farmers, and testing how to apply and transfer innovative technologies and solutions," says Dr Hillerton.
He says there have been many highlights during his time with DairyNZ.
"I am especially proud of the quality of the scientific research at DairyNZ, which has become outstanding. We now have top scientists here who are truly world-leading," says Dr Hillerton. "An example is our work identifying genetics involved in feed conversion efficiency by dairy cows.
"That work was recently awarded gold status by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, and won a Kudos award (Hamilton Science Excellence Awards) late last year.
"Now the science team and others, including New Zealand Animal Evaluation Limited (NZAEL) and Livestock Improvement (LIC), are putting a lot of effort into getting the research findings rolled out to all New Zealand dairy farmers through better bulls," says Dr Hillerton.
"Various other projects are also likely to produce real benefits in the future, including growing more feed, improving fertility through better uterine health and finding natural resistance to mastitis."
DairyNZ chief executive Tim Mackle says Dr Hillerton has made a great contribution to the New Zealand dairy industry over the past seven years.
"Eric has driven a significant improvement in science quality and output, and his relentless focus has had real benefits for farmers," says Dr Mackle. "Farmers can have more confidence in adopting science-based recommendations, thanks to the quality of science and the resulting publications."
Dr Hillerton has also been heavily involved with universities, the Royal Society of New Zealand and many others, helping ensure a ‘pipeline’ of new young dairy scientists. "It’s vital we encourage, train and mentor the next generation of researchers to replace the older guys who are moving into retirement."
Dr Hillerton joined Dexcel (now DairyNZ) in 2006 from the Institute for Animal Health in the United Kingdom (UK). His early research career was spent at the University of Reading and the National Institute for Research in Dairying.
He is the New Zealand member of the International Dairy Federation standing committees on animal health and welfare, and farm management; and a past-president of the international National Mastitis Council. Previously, he was an advisor to the UK Government.
Dr Hillerton plans to semi-retire in July but will continue to contribute to New Zealand dairy farming through various projects.
"The chief scientist role is a key position for DairyNZ, given that significant levy funding goes on research and development as a part of driving our industry’s strategy and future. We’ll be approaching this recruitment with a great deal of effort," says Dr Mackle.
DairyNZ communications advisor
Tel: 021 244 5608