The UNE Sheep CRC has nothing to feel sheepish about. In the 18 years the collaborative research centre ran, from its foundation in 2001 to its closing in June, it increased the value of Australian lamb and wool by billions.
University dignitaries, researchers, and farmers assembled at UNE's Homestead to launch a history of the centre - Concept to Impact - and open a legacy wall containing the awards it received.
"We might be a regional university," vice-chancellor Brigid Heywood said, "but we can make a difference to a nation, and we can make a difference in a global sense."
The CRC was established with backing from CSIRO and the federal government to transform the Australian sheep industry at a time when prices for meat and wool had plummeted.
Researchers worked out how to produce wool and meat from the same animals; improved sheep using genomics and data technology; and then gave their information to the industry.
The centre, chief executive James Rowe said, had a significant effect on industry productivity and the economy over its life.
Its research increased the gross value of lamb from $1.2 billion in 2001 to $3.7 billion today, and wool from $2.3 to $4 billion over the same period.
"Over 18 years," Professor Rowe said, "we have transformed the sheep industry from a value per sheep of around $50 to today over $120 per sheep. It's actually changed the industry from a 5.5 billion dollar industry to an 8.5 billion dollar industry.
"We've increased reproductive efficiency by 20 per cent. We've increased carcass weight in lamb from 19 to 23 kilograms. We've increased the amount of super fine wool dramatically - and at the same time, we've seen the population of this sheep around Australia decrease by 40 per cent. So we've actually done a lot more with a lot less."
The technologies that made this possible, Professor Rowe said, include improved labor efficiency through the use of electronic tags and automated sheep handling systems. The CRC introduced genomic technologies to accelerate genetic gain, and digital web based apps that make complex decision-making easier.
The CRC succeeded, he said, because of collaboration between researchers and industry; post-graduate students working on industry problems; and good governance: a skills-based board that kept researchers on track and focused.
The CRC, Professor Heywood said, was a model of high-quality research conducted in partnership. "It's an exemplar that the world looks to - not just in Australia, New South Wales, or New England."
The government now, though, argues that CRCs have run their course, the vice-chancellor said. She disagrees.
"If you do away with CRC programs, you will leave an enormous, unfillable hole in the Australian infrastructure."
She cut the ribbon on the 'legacy wall', a cabinet housing its prizes: the CRC Association award for Excellence in Innovation (2009, 2014, 2016, 2018), the Commonwealth CRC Program STAR Award (2011, 2014), and the Australian Collaborative Innovation Award (2012).
Walcha sheep producer Andrew Burgess emceed the morning's celebration. He lamented the passing of the centre. "It's been amazing to be involved with such a successful collaboration of scientists and farmers," he said.
Mr Burgess was an early adopter of the science that came out of the CRC. "It's so powerful it's scary!" he joked.
The Hon. Karen Andrews, Minister for Science, Industry and Technology, also launched the book in Canberra this week.