Pascal Oltenacu, digital agriculture pioneer, dies at 84

Pascal “Toni” Oltenacu, a professor emeritus of animal science who used mathematical modeling to predict disease, longevity and reproduction in dairy cattle, died Dec. 10, 2022, in Gainesville, Florida. He was 84.

“His research was ahead of its time,” said Tom Overton, professor and chair of the department of animal science. “He was really interested in how you use data and technologies to either predict or evaluate health and dairy cattle reproduction. It’s what we now call digital agriculture – he was doing digital agriculture before we knew what digital agriculture was.”

Pascal Oltenacu

Oltenacu was born March 17, 1938, in Bucharest, Romania. He earned a degree from the College of Veterinary Medicine in Bucharest in 1964 and then worked as a large animal veterinarian and researcher for several years before coming to the United States for graduate school. He was hired as an assistant professor in Cornell’s Department of Animal Science in 1974, where his research focused on dairy cattle systems, and biological processes that could be manipulated through management, including longevity, disease and nutrition.

In 1993, he won the Dairy Management Research Award from the American Dairy Science Association for his work “at the forefront of dairy management research,” according to the award announcement in the Journal of Dairy Science.

“He was one of the first to use modeling and simulation in management research and in the development of a data-driven expert system. A computer-assisted instruction program that his research group developed on dairy cattle reproduction has been widely used by students and by persons working in the AI industry,” the announcement states.

Oltenacu also maintained close ties with many international collaborators. From 1993 to 2003, he held a joint appointment at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, and a research fellowship funded by the Italian National Council of Research led to over a decade of collaboration with Italian scientists. In 1995, when communist rule in Romania ended, Oltenacu began collaborating with scientists in his native country, including serving as a scientific advisor to the restructuring and modernization of research programs at the Romanian Zootechnical Research Institute. In recognition of his contributions, he received several awards from the Romanian Ministry of Agriculture and was elected an honorary member of the Romanian Academy of Agricultural and Forestry Sciences.

Oltenacu completed a master’s degree from Iowa State University in 1970 and a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota in 1973. He is survived by his wife, Raluca Mateescu, M.S. ‘01, Ph.D. ‘04, and his nephew, Nils Oltenau. He was preceded in death by his brother, Cornel Oltenacu.

Krisy Gashler is a writer for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

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