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Alberta researcher receives prestigious award


Edmonton, AB – Former Alberta Agriculture and Forestry (AF) researcher Dr. Jim Helm has been awarded the prestigious American Society of Agronomy Distinguished Service Award. This award is given only to highly distinguished nominees that have made a transformational contribution to the agronomy profession.

 

“Jim Helm is a household name among cereal breeders and scientists worldwide,” said Dr. John Ryan, former soil scientist with the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas.

 

Dr. Helm spent over four decades as head of research at the Field Crop Development Centre (FCDC), located in Lacombe, and oversaw the release of 42 cereal cultivars bred specifically for conditions in Alberta and western Canada, including 32 barley varieties, nine triticale varieties, and one winter wheat variety.

 

“While this award is primarily a credit to Jim, it’s also a credit to his colleagues and the centre here in Lacombe” says Dr. Ryan.

 

Born and raised in Washington, Jim had the opportunity as a master’s student to work with legendary Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman Borlaug at Washington State University.

 

After obtaining his Ph.D. from Oregon State University, Dr. Helm found his way to Alberta in 1973 to become the sole worker at the brand new provincial barley breeding program, later known as FCDC.

 

Under Dr. Helm’s leadership, the FCDC grew from its humble beginnings into a world class cereal breeding facility, with 10 scientists and over 30 staff working in pathology, biotechnology, quality, and breeding labs. Initially focusing on feed barley, the FCDC’s breeding programs have since expanded to include malt barley, spring and winter triticale, and wheat.

 

Dr. Helm has always described himself as being a practical scientist for the practical farmer, and bringing a common sense approach to the technical world of research. He retired from FCDC at the end of 2014.

 

He has also received the Canadian Society of Agronomy’s Distinguished Agronomist award, the Alberta Centennial Medal for outstanding service to the people and province of Alberta, the Alberta Science and Technology Award for Innovation in Agricultural Science, and was inducted into the Alberta Agricultural Hall of Fame in 2002.