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Announcing the Beef Researcher Mentorship Program 2019-2020 Participants

The Beef Cattle Research Council (BCRC) is pleased to announce the participants in the 2019-20 Beef Researcher Mentorship program. Following an open application process, four researchers from across Canada 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. Aklilu Alemu
Mentors: Brenna Grant and the Fleming family

Dr. Aklilu Alemu is a scientist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada at the Lethbridge Research and Development Centre. He is developing a Canadian whole-farm model called Holos that helps to implement a holistic approach in evaluating changes in management practices and its impact on total farm greenhouse gas emissions. Dr. Alemu aspires to play a role in the development of sustainable cattle production strategies through practical research and technology transfer. Dr. Alemu began his career in Ethiopia with a Diploma and a B.Sc. degree in Animal Production and Rangeland Management, followed by an M.Sc. in Ruminant Nutrition at the University of Alberta and a Ph.D. in Animal Science from the University of Manitoba. Last year, he completed a postdoc at Lethbridge Research and Development Centre. 

Brenna Grant is the manager of Canfax Research Services (CRS). She grew up in SW Saskatchewan on a cow/calf, yearling grasser operation where her family still operates. She received a B.A. in Agricultural Economics from the University of Saskatchewan and a Master’s in Applied Economics from Montana State University.  She has been with CRS since 2007. Canfax Research Services focuses on global and long-term outlooks; performance measurement for marketing and research; economic and market research. Canfax Research Services completed the first economic assessment of the Canadian beef industry for the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef.

The Fleming family own and operate Fleming Stock Farms located west of Granum in Southern Alberta. Duncan, Cecilie and their adult children Cooper and Ricki, along with her husband Justin Pittman, have a passion for Angus cattle. Duncan has worked in the purebred cattle sector for 45 years; as a breeder, a fitter and as a livestock judge. Cecilie is the founding Adult Liaison to the Alberta Junior Angus Association (AJAA) and was instrumental in empowering the youth to step up to the plate and take ownership of their area of the Angus industry. Cecilie has served the Alberta Angus Association for 6 years of which 3 years were as President. Currently Cecilie is a director of the Canadian Angus Foundation and the chair of the Verified Beef Production Plus (VBP+) program.

Mentee: Dr. Marianne Villettaz Robichaud
Mentors: Nathalie Côté and Giacomo Zoia

Dr. Marianne Villettaz Robichaud is an assistant professor in animal welfare in the department of Clinical Sciences of the Faculty de Veterinary Medicine of St-Hyacinthe at the University of Montreal. Her research interests are on-farm improvements of production animal welfare, early detection and prevention of diseases, and management of at-risks animals including veal calves and cull animals. She has a B.Sc. in Agronomy and M.Sc. in Animal Sciences from the University of Laval and Ph.D. in Epidemiology from the University of Guelph. She recently completed a postdoc on the associations between cow welfare and economics with the University of Laval, University of British Columbia (UBC) and McGill University.

Nathalie Côté is the VBP+ Program Coordinator for the sustainable beef program for cow-calf and feeder production. She is also the coordinator of the Verified Veal Program, the On-Farm Food Safety Program for Milk Production and the Certified Quebec Grain Calf Program. Ms. Côté has a Bachelor’s degree in General Agronomy from MacDonald College, McGill University, and since 1993, has held various positions in the marketing and union life of the Federation of Quebec Cattle Producers (FPBQ). She has held the position of Quality and Environmental Management Advisor since 2001. Ms. Côté is regularly asked to take part in cattle production days and the training course for future agronomists at the University of Laval and McGill University.

Giacomo Zoia has been working on the family farm since he was 10. After studying farm business management, he came on as a partner in the family business in 2016.  La Ferme Bœufs des Patriotes Inc. specializes in beef production and field crops. At full capacity, they produce 1000 head of beef per year. For the past two years, they have been specializing in beef heifer feeding. Animal welfare is a priority for them. They also produce corn, soybeans and wheat on 540 acres. On the farm, Giacomo is responsible for monitoring of the TMR, checking animal health and keeping records.

Mentee: Matthew Links
Mentors: Feedlot Health Management Services and Sean McGrath

Dr. Matthew Links is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Animal and Poultry Science at the University of Saskatchewan. Matthew’s research program is focused at the intersection of the computer and life sciences. During his university education Matthew pursued an interdisciplinary education that gave him a diverse background that runs from computer science through to veterinary microbiology. He has been involved in many genomics projects that touch on human, plant and animal health. The research program conducted in his lab is focused on both the wet-lab and computational methods required to understand the interactions between animals and the microbes that live in or on them. Matthew has a B.Sc. in Biochemistry and Computer Science from the University of Saskatchewan, an M.Sc. in Biological Sciences from the University of Windsor, and a Ph.D. in Microbial Profiling Using Metagenomic Assembly from the University of Saskatchewan.

Feedlot Health Management Services is a feedlot consulting service based out of Okotoks, Alberta. Feedlot Health works with feedlots and calf grower operations to determine ways to optimize production efficiency and overall animal health. Their innovation and research is designed to support data-based decision making for feedlot and calf grower clients. They work closely with pharmaceutical companies, government agencies, feed companies and other beef industry organizations.

Sean McGrath is a 5th generation rancher who together with wife Tanya and their family manage a 112-year-old operation breeding roughly 300 females each year and custom grazing another 200 pairs in the summertime. The ranch markets purebred and commercial cattle as well as grass finished beef and is structured around grazing. In 2014 the ranch was awarded the provincial and national TESA award. Sean also provides consulting services to the beef industry, primarily focusing on livestock genetics and ranch/range management. Sean writes for several beef industry publications and through his company markets electric fencing supplies, forage seed and range monitoring education and tools.

Mentee: Dr. Peipei Zhang
Mentors: Scott Entz and Cathy Sharp

Dr. Peipei Zhang is a research scientist under the postdoctoral research program with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada at Lacombe Research and Development Centre. Her expertise is using next-generation sequencing technique to solve meat microbiology related issues. Peipei’s current research is mainly focused on the improvement of meat shelf-life using biopreservative strategies, understanding of the persistence mechanisms of pathogenic bacteria, for example, E. coli O157:H7 and Salmonella, in meat production chain and development of potential interventions to control pathogenic bacteria on meat. Peipei has a B.Sc. in Animal Science from Qingdao Agricultural University, an M.Sc. in Preventative Veterinary Medicine from Zhengjiang University, and a Ph.D. in Agricultural Science from the University of Tasmania.

Scott Entz has spent his entire career, over 30 years, with Cargill and in various roles within the meat industry. He has held the leadership role for Cargill Meat’s North American Engineering team, Information Technology, and led Cargill Further Processing Meats business. During 2007-2008, he worked out of Cargill Corporate in Minneapolis as one of 24 Cargill leaders from 82 different businesses around the world that evaluated the viability and developed a strategy to leverage common processes and systems across Cargill Inc., resulting in the launch of what is the largest project in Cargill’s history, spanning over 10 years. In 2008, he moved back to Alberta and into the role of Vice-President and General Manager in High River.  Other roles in industry currently include Executive Board member of CMC and past president, participating in Beef Industry’s Strategy advisor board, and various role supporting ALMA.

Cathy Sharp has been involved with beef organizations for the past 14 years. Sitting as a delegate on the Alberta Beef Producer Organization she was involved with the marketing and promotion committee, zone coordinator and board member. Cathy is not only involved provincially but nationally as well. She is a board member and executive board member on the Canadian Cattleman’s Association and has chaired the Audit Committee and Value Creation Committee in recent years.  Currently she co-chairs the newly created Food Policy Committee and sits on the Foreign Trade Committee.  During her tenure on Beef Cattle Research Council the Growing Forward 2 Science Cluster Research projects were finalized. In 2015 Cathy had the opportunity to be a mentor for the Cattlemen’s Young Leaders Program.  Cathy really values what she has learned and the many friendships she has made throughout Canada.  Helping to make the beef industry stronger in Canada is challenging but so rewarding.

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 in part through the technology transfer initiative within the Beef Science Cluster.

Learn more about the Beef Researcher Mentorship program, including highlights from past participants, at

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