Lethbridge forage breeder receives top beef research award

Surya Acharya is not only prolific but knows what ranchers need in a variety

AgCanada forage breeder Surya Acharya has a lot of admirers, including Alberta ranchers Darren Bevans (on left), Doug Wray and Craig Lehr (flanking Acharya) and Graeme Finn (second from right). Also pictured are (from left) science director Reynold Bergen and executive director Andrea Brocklebank from the BCRC along with forage breeder Hari Poudel and forage agronomy technician Brandon Eisenreich from AAFC Lethbridge.
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Renowned forage breeder Surya Acharya is the 2021 winner of the Canadian Beef Industry Award for Outstanding Research and Innovation.

“Dr. Acharya is respected and appreciated by academics and producers alike,” said Matt Bowman, an Ontario producer and chair of the Beef Cattle Research Council. “His work addresses real industry obstacles with solutions that consider producers’ needs through direct communication with stakeholders.”

Acharya is a research scientist and forage breeder at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Lethbridge station, where he specializes in breeding legumes. Many of his cultivars are appreciated for their practical use in solving industry challenges, such as his AC Oxley II and AC Veldt cicer milkvetch varieties, both of which are much quicker to establish than earlier ones. Similarly, he assisted in the development of the online Forage U-Pick tool, which aids western Canadian producers in choosing appropriate forage species for their operations.

His most recent project aims to enhance the lipid content of legume vegetative tissues to improve their energy content for grazing livestock. Using conventional and genomic breeding techniques, his team has been able to select for plants with approximately five per cent lipid content, compared to virtually none in the original plants. His project will have environmental benefits by using conventional breeding to reduce methane production through increased digestibility, which will allow western Canadian alfalfa producers to export to nations that avoid the GMO designation.

“This project is another example of Dr. Acharya’s commitment to offering practical benefits to industry,” said Bowman.

Acharya is also known for actively seeking out producer input by attending industry events and asking for feedback through agricultural media. He is also chair of the Alberta Forage Industry Network as well as an author of more than 180 scientific manuscripts, five books, eight book chapters, 16 review articles, and contributions to more than 285 other publications.

But perhaps his greatest accomplishment has been developing more than 25 commercially released perennial forage and native grass species. His native grass cultivars are still used in reclamation projects, while his legume varieties have helped producers mitigate bloat risk and solve challenges with salinity and hardiness.

The Canadian Beef Industry Award for Outstanding Research and Innovation recognizes scientists and academics who are actively involved in strong research programs aligned with industry priorities, continually engage with industry stakeholders and demonstrate their passion and long-term commitment through leadership, teamwork and mentorship.

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