BCRC: Announcing the Beef Researcher Mentorship Program 2017-18 participants

The Beef Cattle Research Council (BCRC) is pleased to announce the participants in the 2017-18 Beef Researcher Mentorship program. Following an open application process, three researchers have been selected. Each has been paired with notable leaders in the Canadian beef industry and given a travel budget for the coming year, which will provide valuable opportunities for greater engagement with Canada’s beef industry.

Mentee: Dr. Mika Asai Coakwell
Mentors: Lance Leachman, Ryan Beierbach, and Michael Latimer 

Mika Asai Coakwell, Ph.D. is the new Assistant Professor of Animal Genetics at the University of Saskatchewan. She grew up in Saskatchewan, attending elementary school, high school and university in Saskatoon. She began her MSc studies in bovine genetics in the department of Animal and Poultry Science, after graduating with BSc in Biology and Archaeology at the UofS. Mika completed her PhD at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich, Switzerland examining epigenetic events in cloned cattle. Upon returning to Canada, she began studies in a new field, ocular genetics, in Edmonton, Alberta as a post-doctoral fellow. There, she studied genes implicated in human ocular defects. She subsequently became a research associate in the department. Her current research interests are in beef cattle genetics, particularly in muscle and bone growth and development. Other interests include the study of inherited disease in cattle and companion animals.

Mika’s husband Colin is a pilot with the Canadian Armed Forces, and after having 5 military postings in 5 years, they and their three children and two cats are ready to settle down back in her home town of Saskatoon. Aside from science, Mika enjoys travelling, playing piano, good food and company, and being a hockey mom.

Lance Leachman, along with his wife Shari, operates Big Gully Farm near Maidstone, SK.  The farm consists of a registered Hereford and Polled Hereford herd, along with Angus females for the production of F1 black baldies. Extensive artificial insemination, embryo transfer, carcass and pregnancy ultrasound, and genomic-enhanced EPD utilization are typical management practices. Big Gully Farm hosts an Appreciation Event, Youth Cattle Judging Clinic and Bull Sale each fall. Cattle are typically exhibited at Canadian Western Agribition and local field days. Lance studied Animal Science at Dodge City Community College and Kansas State University with a Master’s Degree in Animal Breeding & Genetics from Virginia Tech. He competed on or coached Livestock Judging Teams at these schools.

Ryan Beierbach currently ranches South East of Whitewood, SK with his wife, Tania and children, Lara, Rana, and Jace. Ryan and Tania operate a 500 head Black Angus based cow-calf operation and a ranch supply and tack store. Ryan grew up on a ranch in the Cypress Hills of Southwestern Saskatchewan, made up of native prairie with a small amount of irrigated hay land used for growing feed. In 1997, Ryan graduated with distinction from the Agri-Business Program at Lakeland College. Ryan ranched near Irvine, Alberta before the spring of 2002 when he and his wife moved to Whitewood, bought some marginal cropland, fenced it, seeded grass and started custom grazing yearlings as well as a small herd of owned cows and have since moved to a cow-calf and backgrounder operation.

Ryan is a current council member for the Beef Cattle Research Council and is the current Chairman of the Saskatchewan Cattlemen’s Association.

Michael Latimer currently serves as the Executive Director for the Canadian Beef Breeds Council (CBBC). CBBC represents the interests of the Canadian purebred beef cattle sector, as well as livestock and genetic exporters and livestock exhibitions in the areas of international market development, genetic improvement as well as government and industry relations. CBBC is a member of the Canadian Beef Advisors which are the stewards of the National Beef Strategy and the Canadian Beef Industry Conference. He serves as the CBBC representative to Canadian Cattle Identification Agency, Beef Value Chain Round-table, Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, Market Access Secretariat, Canadian Cattlemen Association Foreign Trade Committee and on the board of Canadian Western Agribition. Michael has participated on several trade missions to China, Kazakhstan, Turkey, EU, Brazil, Argentina and Mexico. Previously, Michael was the General Manager for the Canadian Angus Association and is a 5th generation Canadian beef cattle producer. Although most of his time is dedicated to off farm activities, his family owns and operates Remitall Farms, a purebred Angus operation in Olds, Alberta.

Mentee: Dr. Robert Gruninger
Mentors: Larry and Justin Helland, and Darryl Gibb

Robert Gruninger Ph.D. a is Research Biologist at the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Lethbridge Research and Development Centre. He was born and raised in Lethbridge, Alberta. He attended the University of Lethbridge and graduated with a B.Sc (honours) in Biochemistry with great distinction in 2004. He was given many opportunities to work in the lab throughout his undergraduate degree which is when he realized that he wanted to pursue a career in research. His PhD work was conducted in the labs of Dr. Brent Selinger and Dr. Steven Mosimann and he was award in PhD in biochemistry from the University of Lethbridge in 2009. His PhD studies applied biochemical approaches to characterize the molecular basis of enzyme activity of several rumen phytases. Dr. Gruninger then went on to complete a post-doctoral fellowship from 2009-2012 in the lab of Dr. Natalie Strynadka at the University of British Columbia where he used structural biology to probe the basis of beta-lactam antibiotic resistance in pathogenic bacteria. Dr. Gruninger has been working for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada as a post-doctoral fellow (2012-2016) and a Research Biologist (2016-current) at the Lethbridge Research and Development Centre under the guidance of Dr. Tim McAllister. The focus of Dr. Gruninger’s research is to apply a combination of “-omics” based techniques and protein biochemistry to better understand the microbiology of ruminant microbes and the role that the rumen microbiome plays in determining the efficiency of lignocellulose degradation in the rumen. He has received numerous prestigious awards from NSERC, Alberta Ingenuity and the Micheal Smith Foundation for Health Research.

Larry Helland has farmed and ranched for over 40 years. Larry is a graduate of the Southern Alberta institute of Technology. Larry along with his son Justin own and operate a vertically integrated business which includes farming, ranch and feedlot enterprises.  Larry has been involved in the cattle industry in several capacities including chairman of the Alberta Cattle Commissions (now Alberta Beef Producers), director of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, chairman of the  Canada Alberta Beef industry development fund, and he is a current member of the Canada Alberta Livestock Research Trust.

Larry and his wife Wendy have two sons, Justin and Jarret. Larry is also actively involved in his local community including being involved with the Lions club, minor hockey, the Lomond Grazing Assocation and many more

Justin Helland is the fourth generation on his family’ farm.  In 1995 he graduated from Montana State University with a degree in Animal Science. That same fall he built a small feedlot and married his wife Karen.  Karen and Justin have worked together with his parents, Larry and Wendy since 1995. They have three children, aged 19, 18 and 15. They too, share in the day to day tasks of the operation. The Helland family all share a common goal of building a profitable company to pass on to the next generation and their passion lies within the beef industry. They run a mixed farm that focuses on adding value to grains and cattle by retaining ownership, and finishing calves through to slaughter. Justin has been involved in various organizations and committees in his community. Justin is currently serving a third term on the board and is past president of Lomond Grazing Association.  Justin is also a board member for the Canada Alberta Livestock Research Trust.

Darryl Gibb, Ph.D. was born and raised on a mixed farm in southern Alberta and has long been committed to Canada’s beef industry. After receiving his M.Sc. and Ph.D. from the University of Nebraska and Utah State University, he worked as a researcher at the farm level and as a research scientist for the Government of Canada.

Darryl is a Beef Nutrition Consultant at Gowans Feed Consulting where he works hard to identify those quality feeds, best practices, and advanced technologies that can help enhance a producers’ profitability. He believes in the company’s approach to aggressively pursuing nutritional knowledge.

Mentee: Dr. Stacy Singer
Mentors: Graeme Finn and Gord Card 

Stacy Singer, Ph.D. is  a research scientist (forage biotechnologist) with Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada’s Lethbridge Research and Development Centre. She obtained her Ph.D. at the University of Regina in 2005, and subsequent to this, carried out postdoctoral fellowships at the USDA-ARS Appalachian Fruit Research Station in West Virginia and Cornell University’s New York State Agricultural Experiment Station. The majority of her work during this time centered on developing plant biotechnological applications, understanding and improving abiotic and biotic stress tolerance, and coming up with ways in which to mitigate transgene flow between transgenic crops and their non-GM counterparts. Following this, she was employed as a research associate at the University of Alberta (Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science), where her research focused on utilizing biotechnology to enhance seed oil content and composition. In the past ten years she has published thirty-eight peer-reviewed articles in a number of high impact journals, two book chapters, has an extension publication under review, and has five further manuscripts in preparation. She is currently employed as a research scientist (forage biotechnologist) with Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada’s Lethbridge Research and Development Centre where her research program presently focuses upon the development of advanced breeding tools and ‘clean’ biotechnological platforms, which do not produce foreign proteins, for the improvement of various performance- and quality-related traits in forage crops.

Graeme Finn and his wife, Heather, and their two young daughters Claire and Morgan, currently run a beef operation near Madden, Alberta. They manage a cow-calf operation and run grass yearlings with a focus on year-round grazing of both high legume pastures and annual crop grazing. They have been successful in incorporating intensive rotational grazing and winter grazing strategies into their management system.

Graeme has been past Vice President of the Agricultural Research Extension Council of Alberta (ARECA) board. He currently sits on the advisory committee of the Canadian Beef and Forage Research Council (CBFRC) as well as the Alberta Crop Industry Development Fund (ACIDF) board and on the research committee for the Canadian Round Table for Sustainable Beef (CRSB). His passion for looking at new ways to do things and finding ways to be profitable by cutting the bottom line as well as looking outside the box to improve profit margins has made him keen to be involved with all of the ARECA associations, including the Foothills Forage and Grazing Association (FFGA). Graeme has worked closely the past few years with the McDonald’s Sustainable Beef Pilot.

Graeme has been involved in the agricultural industry in his capacity with ACIDF, FFGA, CBFRC, CRSB and ARECA to try and help advance agriculture in any way, always willing to lend a hand and talk anything grass.

Gord Card and his family own and operate Sunshine Seeds, a seed retailer west of Magrath, Alberta. Originally crop and livestock producers, Gord started off growing Kay orchardgrass for a local seed retailer and in 2006 had the opportunity to purchase the business. Gord continues to grow most of the most of the grasses that they sell.

Gord attended the University of Saskatchewan where he did his undergraduate degree in agricultural economics, he then continued on to Washington State University to complete his Masters in agricultural economics.


The Beef Researcher Mentorship Program provides upcoming and new applied researchers with the opportunity to deepen their understanding of the needs of the beef industry in practical and meaningful ways. Participants are paired with innovative cattle producers and other industry professionals for a one year mentorship along with a travel budget to attend industry meetings, producer workshops, and farm tours. The program complements similar programs in existence but for which some researchers may not be eligible. Funding is made available through the technology transfer initiative within the second Beef Cattle Industry Science Cluster.

Learn more about the Beef Researcher Mentorship program, including highlights from last year’s participants, at http://www.beefresearch.ca/about/mentorship-program.cfm.

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