Renowned Lacombe crops researcher given prestigious award

Former provincial crops researcher Jim Helm has been awarded the prestigious American Society of Agronomy Distinguished Service Award.

This award is given only to highly distinguished nominees who have made a transformational contribution to the agronomy profession.

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

Helm spent more than four decades as head of research at the Field Crop Development Centre in Lacombe. He 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” said Ryan.

Born and raised in Washington, Helm had the opportunity as a master’s student to work with legendary Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman Borlaug at Washington State University. He came to Alberta in 1973 after obtaining his PhD from Oregon State University and became the sole worker at the brand new provincial barley-breeding program in Lacombe. Under his leadership, the centre became a world-class cereal-breeding facility, with 10 scientists and more than 30 staff working in pathology, biotechnology, quality, and breeding labs. Initially focusing on feed barley, the centre’s breeding programs have since expanded to include malt barley, spring and winter triticale, and wheat.

Helm, who retired at the end of 2014, was known for his common-sense approach to research and prided himself on being a practical scientist for the practical farmer. 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.

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