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Highlighting Crop Research & Environmental Stewardship Teams

March 06, 2023

With 3,600 acres of farmland to work with, the Crop Research team at Olds College of Agriculture & Technology is able to perform in-field crop research with small plots trials and full-field commercial scale investigations. Olds College is also dedicated to Environmental Stewardship which encompasses water resource management, land management, renewable and green energy, carbon management, by-product development and utilization, air quality management, and green infrastructure development. 

Read more about these talented teams of researchers that are moving crop research and environmental stewardship forward!

Ike Edeogu

ike-story.jpgIke Edeogu is the Applied Research Manager for crop research and environmental stewardship with Olds College Centre for Innovation (OCCI). Ike is passionate about research that can benefit agricultural producers.

Ike has always been interested and driven by research, technology development, and technology integration that can solve problems within the agriculture industry and make a genuine difference to producers. He enjoys that every workday is different, tasks are always changing, and what you’re involved in and working on truly makes a difference in the bottom line for farmers and rural communities. 

Ike is a professional engineer (P.Eng.) with an M.Sc. in Agricultural Engineering from the University of Alberta. Prior to joining Olds College in 2020, Ike worked with Alberta's Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry for about 25 years in the application of applied research and innovation techniques and principles towards the advancement of Alberta’s agricultural sector. He has a vast network of professional contacts from across the private sector, academia, government, and non-government organizations — both across Canada and abroad.

Ike recalls an eight-month internship to Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Québec back in 1998 that deeply impacted his research journey. The internship was in the field of horticulture and focused on post-harvest opportunities to help producers better preserve their harvests with minimal chemicals to lengthen the product shelf life. Ike reflects on this internship fondly since it made him want to help farmers. As an intern, Ike helped research cost-effective solutions that were environmentally friendly and sustainable such as forced-air cooling systems utilizing ice cubes for refrigeration. This experience in Quebec impacted Ike’s passion for sustainable agriculture practices that truly benefit producers.

Multi-tasking is a huge part of Ike’s role at the College. His teams are involved in research with crops (both small plots trials and full-field commercial scale investigations), water resource management, land management, renewable/green energy, carbon management, by-product development and utilization, air quality management, and green infrastructure development. The crop research and environmental stewardship teams also work with a large number of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to help them assess, evaluate, validate and improve agricultural products. Ike is quick to commend the support from the federal and provincial governments to smaller companies in this field which helps get their technologies and products into the Canadian market to the benefit of Canadian consumers, and ultimately the economy.

Ike sees the importance in a zero waste policy and finding ways to utilize every by-product in the agriculture industry, such as composting. He also stresses the importance of shelterbelts stemming from his time at Alberta's Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, and finding smart and effective ways to use every part of the land with precision farming by planting different crops, trees or grasses. 

Ike aims to help farmers better adapt to changes in the climate by researching economically viable ways they can diversify farming practices, and bring forth residual income by taking into consideration climate change management and mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions. Ike stresses the importance of finding ways to make every acre of farmland work such as renewable energy utilization and biogas production.

When he isn’t dreaming of research and sustainability, Ike is at his home-base in Edmonton focused on his family. He has three kids (almost all out of high school) who are starting their post-secondary educations. People who know Ike would describe him as kind-hearted, and someone who likes to laugh, make jokes and tell stories. He has a strong interest in sports — soccer, floor hockey and golf are at the top of the list — with a long-standing history of coaching sports under his belt. Ike also is a proud volunteer at long-term care and assisted living facilities with Alberta Health Services.

Shabeg Briar

shabeg-story.jpgShabeg Briar is a Research Scientist with crop research at OCCI. He was raised on a small agriculture farm in India — specifically North India which is known for its intensive agriculture industry — and his family typically grew two or three crops a year which kept them busy. He fondly reflects on farm life and how he was always interested in the entire farm cycle of working with crops, seeing them grow, harvesting and selling the produce. Agriculture was in Shabeg’s blood and he pursued an education in agriculture science due to his farming background.

Shabeg earned his B.Sc. degree in Agronomy and a Ph.D. in Plant Pathology and Nematology from Ohio State University, USA. In his role as a Research Scientist at Olds College, he is responsible for conducting small plot crop trials related to herbicide efficacy, crop variety evaluation and pest management studies. He is also a certified professional agronomist. Prior to this, Shabeg was working as a Research Scientist with Montana's Agricultural Experiment Station. During his Ph.D. work at Ohio State University, he focused on soil health of farming systems and studied bio-indicators and their role in the soil food web. He has published several peer reviewed journal articles, book chapters and extension articles.

Shabeg equally loves research — with a special interest in designing experiments — and teaching. He feels that being at Olds College is a perfect fit for his interests since he gets to enjoy a hybrid of research, working with crops, and being able to give guest lectures to students on campus. 

Shabeg highlights that every year in crop research brings new challenges with opportunities to learn — he happily considers himself a lifelong learner. Shabeg takes pride in his work and enjoys interacting with such a wide variety of different agriculture companies. He feels immense pride when his team can help companies of all sizes achieve their research goals by getting them the results they need to move forward with their work.

When you meet Shabeg, his larger-than-life sense of humour and smile is quick to show. He loves to tell jokes and makes everyone laugh and feel at ease. Shabeg commutes to Olds College from Calgary where he lives with his wife of over 25 years, and their two sons. Shabeg is quick to say his biggest happiness is spending time with his family and that he just “likes them all so much”.

His wife is an early childhood educator, with degrees in both education and early childhood education. Their eldest son is finishing electrical engineering, and their youngest son is just starting software engineering. Lucky enough, Shabeg’s wife and sons often carpool together since they all work at and attend the same university in Calgary.

When Shabeg isn’t researching or teaching, he focuses on his main hobby — cooking delicious Indian dishes. He also is a big fan of all Bollywood movies. Shabeg’s mom still lives in India and he likes to go back as often as possible to visit with his wife and sons. Shabeg and his family also love to pack up the vehicle and go on long roadtrips like their recent 12-day trip down to Las Vegas and Arizona to explore the national parks.

Dayani Patuwatha Withanage

dayani.jpgDayani Patuwatha Withanage is a Research Associate with crops at Olds College Centre for Innovation (OCCI). Dayani finished her B.Sc. in Zoology at the University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka, and then moved to Canada in 2020 to complete her masters in Biological Sciences at the University of Alberta (U of A). Dayani’s research project for her masters involved slugs and nematodes, and she became fascinated with nematodes. Dr. Shabeg Briar, Research Scientist with crops, was on her masters committee at the U of A assisting with her field work project, and encouraged her to come work at Olds College after graduating.

Dayani works primarily in the lab and greenhouse on Olds College campus, and she truly enjoys working with microscopes and conducting experiments. She is actively engaged in two projects on the crop research team. The first is on assessing the comparative effectiveness of a native entomopathogenic nematode (EPN) species in contrast to two commercially available EPN strains. The second project involves the isolation and taxonomic characterization of plant parasitic nematodes from diverse soil samples, primarily relying on the nematode morphology. Through these efforts, Dayani aims to contribute to the development of sustainable pest management strategies and the promotion of ecologically sound agricultural practices.

Essentially, an entomopathogenic nematode is a microscopic worm that lives in the soil and eats insects such as root maggots and black cutworms. Since root maggots and black cutworms can negatively affect major field crops such as canola, peas and wheat, finding nematodes that feed on these pests would be very beneficial to producers. Dayani is actively testing a native strain similar to commercially available entomopathogenic nematodes found locally in Alberta, and trying to figure out if this particular strain of nematode can be used in future pest management applications in the province to help minimize pests in major crops. Dayani’s lab work and experiments are geared towards finding a biological pest control with beneficial nematodes.

Nematodes can only be seen with a microscope, so Dayani loves being able to peer at them through the lens and see their distinguishing features. She explains that nematodes have unique features. For example, plant parasitic nematodes have different types of stylets — a spear or needle-shaped structure on their head region that helps tell the various species apart. She explains how nematodes only live for a few months, and her experiments include watching them on a petri dish or glass slides. She also explains how she feeds the pest-eating nematodes with wax worms as food to culture them in the lab to maintain the nematode colonies. Her next stage of research with nematodes is in development and will include analyzing the cold tolerance of beneficial nematodes.

Dayani’s favourite part of her job is her colleagues. She loves working with the entire research team in OCCI and enjoys working closely with the crops team. Dayani brings an endless supply of happiness and smiles to work everyday — you can tell she genuinely loves her job. 

Outside of the lab, Dayani’s favourite hobby is to paint abstract art on canvases and she secretly loves watching K-dramas (funny, intense, romantic and suspenseful Korean dramas). Dayani enjoys her trips home to Sri Lanka to visit her parents and two brothers, and her pomeranian dog who now lives with her mom and dad. Dayani first came to Canada in December 2020, and she fell in love with Canada and the snow. She genuinely enjoys all four seasons in Canada — something she never experienced in Sri Lanka since it’s permanently spring/summer back home. 

Dayani is so thankful to her crops team for making her feel so welcome and at home in Olds, Alta. She is grateful to Dr. Shabeg Briar and Ike Edeogu, Applied Research Manager - Crop Research & Environmental Stewardship, for giving her the opportunity to work at the College after finishing her masters and finding this job that is so well suited to her interests.

Hilke Beuck

hilke-1.jpegHilke is a Research Technician with the crops division of OCCI, and specializes in small plot research trials for herbicide efficacy, fertilizer and germplasm screening. Hilke truly enjoys the diversity of her role on the crop research team and that there are no dull moments throughout the day. Her workdays are mixed with tasks in the office, research in the laboratory, hands-on work in the greenhouse, and numerous jobs out in the field and plots. Hilke says organization and multi-tasking are especially important skills to possess in crop research.

Hilke highlights the amount of planning and organization that goes into crop research. The trials need to be closely set-up and looked after to ensure the best and most thorough analysis, evaluations and results. When the team is performing trials and research during the cropping season, the planning and organization help them to navigate and be successful through the busy times of seeding, evaluating and harvesting. Hilke explains that the team performs a wide variety of evaluations during the growing season to help the client and project succeed which include performing soil, biomass, grain and plant samples, measuring NDVI greenness, completing plant counts, and taking pictures.

Hilke especially enjoys getting to work with students every year — the crop research team has summer students and direct field study interns join the team each year. She likes to give students a better understanding of what agriculture research entails, see them get hands-on experience in the field, greenhouse and laboratory, and watch their education and experience in the agriculture industry progress. 

Hilke takes a lot of pride in her job. She says the best part of all their crop research efforts is being able to see a happy client and know that their research helped them move forward with their product or service. 

Prior to working at Olds College, Hilke worked with a German company for eight years involved in the cultivation of a new strain of grains and was responsible for the technical realization of field, greenhouse and laboratory trials of wheat, barley, rye and triticale. Hilke received an Agricultural-Technological Assistant Diploma in 1990 from Germany.

Hilke and her husband were both raised in Germany and first came to Canada for an outdoor adventure — a 2,500 km canoe trip across Northern Canada. They crossed northern Alberta, Northwest Territories and Nunavut in their canoes and fell in love with the great outdoors. They decided they would love to work in Canada and experience the winter months after having such an enjoyable time during their first Canadian adventure. 

When they returned to Germany, instead of applying for a visitor VISA to return to Canada, they made the decision to apply for permanent residency. Hilke said they were both “bitten by the northern bug” and wanted to make Canada their home. 

When they first moved permanently to Canada, they lived in northern Alberta and spent the majority of their time in the northern provinces — especially the Yukon. Hilke said their biggest passion, white water kayaking, brought her and her husband to the Olds/Sundre area. Hilke says they chased the white water to Central Alberta and made this area their home since it keeps them close to all their interests and hobbies. Hilke and her husband participate in all water sports and love the adrenaline kick of being near the rushing water. 

When Hilke isn’t in the field or laboratory, she is most likely canoeing, kayaking or cross country skiing. She also goes to the gym everyday and makes time for her second passion of wildlife photography. She loves to be outdoors and take pictures of animals, and also takes pride in entering photography competitions. In a recent Photographer of the Year contest which included over 50,000 entries, Hilke’s photograph made it to the finals. She says her best pictures are from the Sundre and Olds areas — another reason she is happy to call this area home.

Krista Pick

krista-1.jpegKrista is a Research Technician for Environmental Stewardship at Olds College. She finds it rewarding that her research is helping to provide solutions for farmers and feedlot producers to make environmentally sustainable choices. She says every day is an opportunity to learn and share ideas with the industry, colleagues and students, and to be on the forefront of new and innovative ideas and products.

Krista's main focus at the College is on the floating island technology project. Krista and a fellow research technician regularly monitor the ponds and floating islands involved in the applied research project, perform water and plant sampling, and check weather parameters, precipitation and contaminant concentrations at the sites. The research team recently launched 55 floating islands on the water, and will be collecting and analyzing data over the next two years to see if they can produce high-quality recycled water for producers.

Krista has been part of the floating island project for years, and has been front-and-center watching it grow in scope from the greenhouse to producer sites. She says it is truly amazing to be involved in a trial where research has been conducted in a controlled environment, and then taking that knowledge and applying it to real-world applications. Krista says the results from the controlled trials gave a promising glimpse into the power of how native wetland plants have the potential to give feedlot producers a clean water source they can tap into!

Krista’s favourite part of her job is that each day is completely different from the day before. For data collection, everything needs to be collected and analyzed in the exact same way each and every time, but Krista finds it interesting to watch the data itself change. Understanding why the data is reading the way it is keeps Krista’s mind active and engaged, and working out in the field keeps her physically active.

Krista enjoys that a good part of her day allows her to be outdoors. She’s always loved to spend a lot of time outside — whether it’s going for a walk, sitting on a beach or gardening in the backyard. Krista loves the physicality of working outdoors, getting her hands dirty and battling the elements.

Krista’s husband, Jason Pick, also works at the College and is an Instructor in Turfgrass Management and the Executive Director of the Alberta Turfgrass Research Foundation. They have two sons who are super active in sports. Before coming to the College, Krista and her family lived across Canada in Ontario, British Columbia and New Brunswick, as well as living in Bermuda, before settling in Alberta in 2009.

In her free time, Krista is with her family who spends a lot of time in arenas, on ski hills or at the swimming pool. When they aren’t at sporting events, they’re usually curled up together in the living room watching movies or planning their next travelling adventure. They also always make time for Bernie, a sweet three-legged St. Bernard, and Chester, a lovable labradoodle, who both enjoy walks and treats.

Leona Megli

leona-1.jpegLeona Megli is a Research Technician with OCCI's crop research team, and says the crops team is a lot of fun to work with and that she’s learned a large amount about agriculture in the time she's been on the team. Leona’s favourite part of her job is getting to work outside and being hands-on with projects. With the large number of applied research activities and variety trials happening in crop research, Leona says every day is different and she loves the diversity of her job. She finds herself counting germinated seeds one day, inoculating waxworms with nematodes another day, evaluating the effects of chemicals on crops and weeds, or rototilling and cultivating.

Leona obtained her B.A.Sc. from Olds College in 2006 and her interest in research was sparked when she worked as a summer student for the nursery crops division of Crop Diversification Centre South in Brooks, Alta. Prior to joining the OCCI team, Leona worked as a Horticulture Technician for 15 years with Olds College Grounds.

Leona gets a huge sense of accomplishment harvesting a crop that she has helped seed, weed and observe throughout the growing season. She highlights that she gets excited to see the bright green of new growth poking out of the soil and enjoys watching the crops grow. She finds it amazing that each small seed contains all the information it needs to grow into the right plant.

Leona loves that the crop research team is part of creating practical, real-world solutions to issues in agriculture. Producers are in a tight spot, needing to reduce emissions and fertilizer inputs while growing more crop. By comparing how well different varieties grow across the province, and testing chemical efficacy or optical spraying, the crops team is helping producers save on inputs and gain in yield. This work truly adds up to real dollars for producers, and since Leona’s family has a background in agriculture, she knows that makes a huge difference to people's lives.

Leona spends most of her free time with her family and friends — especially her two nieces — and always has a great time whether they are going on cruises to tropical destinations, or staying home and playing games and puzzles. Leona has been an avid Formula 1 fan since 2004 and loves watching the races. She also loves being outdoors and reading. She volunteers with the Mountain View Film Group in Olds to bring TIFF films to the local theatre and at her church's welcome centre. She is also a member of the Olds College Employee Engagement Committee, Vice-Chair of AUPE's Local 71 - Chapter 2 at Olds College, and OCCI's Social Committee.

Any additional free time is spent catsitting Harry — a sweet cat who demands attention, can be a bit of a jerk, and then doesn't even repay Leona with snuggles.

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