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Alberta cereal researcher receives prestigious award

Jan. 25, 2016 - Former Alberta Agriculture and Forestry (AF) researcher Jim Helm, Ph.D., 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.

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.

Born and raised in Washington state, Helm 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, 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 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.

Helm prides himself on being a practical scientist for the practical farmer, and brought a common sense approach to the technical world of research. He retired from FCDC at the end of 2014.

Helm 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.