The Canola Week Conference has been an annual event since 1970 and was held again last week in Saskatoon. The conference founder, Dr. Keith Downey, was in attendance again this year. Downey is known worldwide throughout the agriculture and agri-food industries as one of two research scientists behind the development of canola. Dr. Keith Downey spent 40 years with Agriculture Canada, retiring from full-time work in 1993.
In the late 1960’s Downey, in partnership with Baldur Stefansson, was successful in developing a variety of rapeseed that could be used as an edible oil and eventually an edible livestock feed. Today, canola is one of the most utilized edible oils, feed meals, and is one of the largest-acreage oilseed crops grown. Dr. Downey is the breeder and co-breeder of 13 canola varieties and five condiment mustard varieties.
The relatively spry 96-year-old Dr. Downey spoke briefly at the conference last week and chaired several sessions. He is admittedly proud of his accomplishments, but he also voiced some strong concerns with overproduction by some prairie farmers. Downey says that canola must be rotated with other annual crops, or disease and insects are going to take hold.
“With the price, I can’t fault the growers. But I feel that canola’s almost been too successful for its own good, that we’re growing it too frequently on our farms. I’m worried about insect pressure and the disease pressure being exerted because of that high incident of growing.”
Dr. Downey says that Club-Root is his main concern after seeing countries like Sweden take the crop out of production to try to irradicate the disease in their soils. Conversely, Downey says that Flea-Beetle will be controlled over the next few years.
“Flea-beetles are a tough one, but I think we should be able to overcome that. It’s going to be a few years. I’m more concerned, I think, with Club-root. In Sweden, they had to stop growing rapeseed over there for a number of years. I would hate to see that have to occur here in western Canada.”
Dr. Keith Downey lives in a small town in southern Alberta surrounded by canola fields. Ironically, he has to view the fields from a distance, having developed an allergy to canola pollen.
“I’m living in Okotoks, it’s a relatively small town. There’s lots of canola all around. I don’t walk through the crop to often because, over the years, I’ve become allergic to the pollen (chuckle).”
Keith Downey oversaw the development of rapeseed from a crop grown on only about 5,000 acres in 1970 in western Canada to more than 10 million acres grown by the 1990s. The name Canola is a short form for Canada Oil.