Sheri Strydhorst is now an agronomy research specialist with Alberta Wheat and Barley commissions. Photo: Megan Evans of Alberta Wheat and Barley commissions
Sheri Strydhorst is plowing ahead at her new job with Albert Wheat and Barley.
For Sheri Strydhorst her passion is helping farmers — giving them the information they need to grow the best crops they can. Which is why a new job at Alberta Wheat and Barley commissions was the perfect fit for her.
“After the provincial government decided to get out of research, I was really struggling to find the ideal fit for my applied research program within this new reality that was research in Alberta. And I really wanted a position where I could work and focus on serving farmer needs,” Strydhorst says in a phone interview.
For seven years, Strydhorst had worked as an agronomy research scientist with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry (AAF). She completed agronomy research work and planted Regional Variety Trials (RVT) plots. After the provincial government announced it would be winding down its agricultural research work, Strydhorst found herself transferred to the University of Alberta to continue her work. However, she wasn’t working as closely with farmers, and she missed it.
With the provincial government getting out of the ag research game, the provincial commodity commissions found themselves taking a more active role in research work. At the Alberta Wheat and Barley commissions, this change meant they needed someone to run their RVT program, so they posted a job looking for an entry level extension, KTP specialist and RVT coordinator.
“I knew that that Sheri would be perfect for that role. She already had experience running small plot trials. And she knew the players, she was incredibly organized, and she was already coordinating one of the trial sites. We really needed a unicorn in that position and Sheri is that unicorn,” Lauren Comin, director of research for Alberta Wheat and Barley commissions, says in a phone interview about her thoughts when she saw Strydhorst had applied for the job.
How Sheri Fell in Love with Ag
While it may seem like ag and Strydhorst are the perfect fit, it wasn’t always that way. Strydhorst grew up in St. Albert, Alta., and her father would tell her stories of growing up on a farm in Saskatchewan in the 1950s. For the most part throughout her childhood, she didn’t think much about ag or if there was a future for her with it.
After high school, Strydhorst enrolled at Concordia College and then the University of Alberta where she planned to study to be a geneticist. She quickly found she saw little value in counting fruit flies and transferred to the agriculture faculty.
“That’s where I thought genetics had a very clear commercial application, such as breeding new wheat varieties,” Strydhorst explains.
While completing her bachelor of science degree, Strydhorst met her husband Shane, who had grown up on a farm in Neerlandia, Alta. The two married and Strydhorst moved to the farm, where she started working in agriculture with a focus on crop production and research.
In 2003, Strydhorst completed her masters in faba bean agronomy and in 2008 her PhD on agronomy and rotational benefits of pulse crops. She then worked as the executive director of the Alberta Pulse Growers before moving onto AAF in 2013.
“It was in that role with Alberta agriculture, where I really grew my understanding and my passion for cereal agronomy. And I worked on projects that focused on really relevant on farm production challenges, such as plant growth regulators to deal with lodging, pushing the agronomic management of top yielding varieties and comparing fertility treatments,” Strydhorst says.
Sheri Takes the Reins of the RVT Program
In 2021, Strydhorst joined the Alberta Wheat and Barley commissions. The new position has her coordinating the RVT program and doing extension work.
“It’s very different, because I don’t have any plots of my own, I am not planting stuff, I’m not managing stuff in the field, I’m not collecting data,” she explains. “I am responsible for coordinating the other research organizations that do implement the trials. So, I am very involved with getting them plot plans and data analysis. I am very involved with questions that may arise if something goes askew.”
Strydhorst oversees planning the cereal and oilseed crop RVTs. She coordinates with seed companies for which varieties will be grown, with cooperative partners research groups who grown the plots, and then makes sure everyone has the information they need to grow the crops and collect data. Strydhorst visits the research plots during the growing season, and at harvest she compiles the data which is published in the spring edition of the Alberta Seed Guide.
“I think there’s going to be a huge emphasis on data quality. I’ve been reviewing previous data quality, we want things to have the same standards as what PGDC, the Prairie Grain Development Committee, is using for their quality controls for data,” Strydhorst says.
Strydhorst also helps with the commissions’ extension programming with her colleague Jeremy Boychyn. Boychyn focuses on extension work for farmers in the southern part of the province, while Strydhorst handles the northern.
“They have sort of become a dynamic duo. They work so wonderfully together. So, I think it has really strengthened our other programming in addition to allowing us to provide more support to the Regional Variety Trialss,” Comin says.
Strydhorst has been busy planning and speaking at field days and has written chapters for the commissions’ production manual. She is also working on research work planning to help new researchers align their work with farmer priorities.