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NDSU Soybean Breeder Announces Retirement

Dr. Ted Helms has had a distinguished 34-year career as the soybean breeder at North Dakota State University. He plans to retire June 30, 2020.

June 22, 2020

Dr. Ted Helms has had a distinguished 34-year career as the soybean breeder at North Dakota State University. He plans to retire June 30, 2020.

Helms grew up in Illinois and attended the University of Illinois, earning a bachelor’s degree in agronomy. He worked in seed corn production for Pioneer Hi-Bred in 1975-1977, then went to graduate school at the University of Nebraska, earning a M.S. in agronomy and plant breeding. He worked in maize breeding for DeKalb-Pfizer Genetics in 1981-1983 and then returned to school to earn a Ph.D. in agronomy and plant breeding at Iowa State University in 1986. Given his work experience in corn production and maize breeding, he thought he would be a maize breeder but when the soybean breeding job opened at NDSU, he applied and was selected for the position. “I am very pleased that I worked as a soybean breeder,” he says.

Helms took over the NDSU soybean breeding program from Dr. Dean Whited and has continued the work of developing superior soybean cultivars to maximize profits for soybean growers and improving germplasm for the general-use and specialty-export markets. Helms has also offered a service that tests public and private soybean cultivars to help farmers choose the best varieties and production practices for their operations.

During his tenure, Helms developed and released 40 soybean varieties (see list here). He released the first NDSU soybean variety, ‘Council’, in 1995 and says this is his favorite memory from his breeding work. Also of note are several early-maturity, glyphosate-resistant soybean varieties such as RG200RR and ND17009GT released in 2000 and 2017, respectively. He also developed non-GMO soybean varieties for the specialty food markets, producing products such as tofu (made from condensed soy milk) and natto (made from fermented soybean). He says these specialty food soybean varieties helped expand the production and marketing of these products by companies in our region.

The biggest change Helms has seen in soybean breeding over the last 34 years was the development of GMO herbicide-resistant soybeans. He explains:

Starting with Roundup Ready®, the GMO types made it profitable for private companies to breed soybean varieties. In 1995, private companies had a big impact on increasing soybean yield, both nation-wide and also in North Dakota. The development of GMO soybean varieties made it much easier for the farmer to grow soybean. Acres of soybean in North Dakota rapidly increased. 

Helms has published 32 refereed publications in journals such as Theoretical and Applied Genetics; Agronomy Journal; and Crop Science. He counts among the most notable publications those he authored jointly with other NDSU faculty on phytophthora root rot resistance and iron-deficiency chlorosis tolerance, which provided insight on these topics to NDSU Extension agents and North Dakota soybean growers.

In addition to soybean breeding, Helms taught Plant Sciences courses PLSC 315 Genetics, PLSC 751 Advanced Plant Genetics, and PLSC 782 Population and Quantitative Genetics. “Teaching was always my favorite part of my job responsibilities,” he says. He also mentored seven graduate students through their degree programs and served on graduate committees for additional students.

Helms has been a member of the American Society of Agronomy and the Crop Science Society of America and attended annual soybean breeders’ meetings. He also served for a year on the NDSU Faculty Senate. He maintained close relationships with North Dakota soybean grower groups and says, “I want to express my deepest appreciation to the many men and woman that serve as volunteers to the North Dakota Soybean Council and the North Dakota Soybean Growers Association for their continuing support of soybean as a commodity in North Dakota.”

In 2003, Helms was selected to receive the Excellence in Research, Senior Career award by the NDSU College of Agriculture, Food Systems and Natural Resources. The award recognizes outstanding faculty and researchers with 11 or more years of service, who have a distinguished research program in basic or applied sciences that has gained significant recognition in the state, region or nation and/or internationally.

In retirement, Helms and his wife will continue to reside in Moorhead, Minnesota, and look forward to spending more time with their grandchildren. He also enjoys hunting and fishing, and his wife enjoys gardening.

We wish Dr. Ted Helms a long and happy retirement!

Author: Kamie Beeson, 701-231-7123,
Editor: Karen Hertsgaard, 701-231-5384,

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