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Making an impact

Posted by Stephanie Rogers on May 21, 2024 in News
Craig MacEachern with his daugher in a CASE IH tractor on campus.
Craig MacEachern with his daugher in a CASE IH tractor on campus.

It only takes one person to change the course of a student’s life.

Just ask Craig MacEachern, whose trajectory shifted when Dr. Ilhami Yildiz encouraged him to pursue a master’s project in applied microbiology.

Despite intending to become a teacher and having limited knowledge of microbiology, MacEachern embraced the opportunity. Nine years later, he is set to cross the stage and receive his PhD in precision agriculture during Convocation celebrations on May 21.

“Here is a person who went out of their way and told me they believed in me, you know?” MacEachern shared. “That was so empowering, to have somebody reach out and see some potential in you.”

This interaction has consistently motivated him to make a lasting impact on the industry.

Working with Dr. Yildiz, MacEachern achieved maximum beta-carotene concentrations in algae using LED lights and natural nutrients. This  environmentally sustainable solution at a fraction of production costs, could eventually be used in pharmacology.  His success caught the attention of Dr. Travis Esau, resulting in a PhD opportunity in precision agriculture.

“Craig began working with me as a research assistant in 2018 and demonstrated his talents and a keen eye for high-level academic research,” shared Esau. “Craig consistently proved himself to be an extremely intelligent, dedicated, and hardworking employee. These traits led to a natural partnership between him and myself.”

MacEachern has always wanted to see the impact of his work on communities, and Dr. Esau’s project presented a perfect opportunity. MacEachern addressed a key challenge in the blueberry industry: hair fescue, a fast-spreading pest causing economic losses. The current treatment could become less effective due to its overuse, while an alternative chemical was too expensive for growers. To address this, MacEachern invented the world’s first granular spot applicator, allowing precise application of the less-used chemical only to affected areas, significantly reducing treatment costs, and diversifying treatment plans.

“If we can take what I did and make it cheap enough to make it attractive to growers, we can make hair fescue less threatening.”

Since the beginning of the project in 2019, MacEachern has earned 11 awards and scholarships, including the $90,000 Killam Doctoral Scholarship, the President’s Award covering full tuition, and two Doug Bragg Scholarships in Agricultural Engineering totalling $18,000.

Beyond the academic research, MacEachern impacted his community as a soccer coach at Dal’s Agricultural campus.

“Being such a small campus, it can be difficult to be hyper-competitive with other (larger) universities, so for me, it’s not as much about the winning but about developing the players as people.”

MacEachern started coaching when he was 16. “Now I see kids that I coached when they were 6-7 years old graduating university, it’s pretty amazing to see them grow up, to see where they are now.”

Balancing his final PhD work, conference presentations, coaching responsibilities, and celebrating the arrival of his first child in fall 2023 made for a challenging yet fulfilling year.

“That sounds more daunting than it is!” he clarified. “It’s not as hard; being focused on the task at hand helps a lot. But it’s so rewarding, gives me something to look forward to, gives an extra motivation to work that much harder during the day, so I can go home and hang out with my wife and daughter.”

The upcoming year promises more excitement. Recently, MacEachern has secured a $120,000 McCain Foundation Post Doctoral Fellowship to fund his research in electro-thermal cover crop termination.

“I’m really excited about the project. I think you can go too deep into one area and forget to think holistically, so it’s nice to get some experience with a completely new project.”

In research, coaching, fatherhood, and career, MacEachern lived up to one of his personal wisdoms.

“The impact you have on others will always be more important than any personal accomplishments. This is something I have grown to realize throughout my journey and something that I truly admire in others who live their lives in this way. By no means do I embody this daily, but it is something I am striving to become.”