Stephen Fox is a canola breeder now, but his success developing new hard red spring wheats for western Canadian farmers was recognized Dec. 11 when the Manitoba Seed Growers Association (MSGA), presented him with an honorary life membership during its annual awards banquet in Winnipeg.
Fox, who joined Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) in 2001, commercialized nine wheat cultivars including Kane, Unity and Cardale.
In 2012, Manitoba farmers grew almost 400,000 acres of wheats developed by Fox, representing 17 per cent of total hard wheat plantings.
“By listening to producers and being cognizant of the issues and concerns of primary producers, Stephen was able to focus his programs so that they would deliver varieties that addressed serious concerns, while maintaining the reputation of Canada’s wheat quality in the global marketplace,” said MSGA vice-president Eric McLean.
“Stephen’s work developing the first midge-tolerant lines of wheat for western Canadian producers was game changing in areas where the midge pest was decimating yields for producers.”
Fox authored or co-authored 52 research papers and more than 100 abstracts on wheat, barley and oat genetics, molecular genetics and plant pathology.
The federal government, as part of its budget cuts, is closing the Winnipeg Cereal Research Centre where Fox worked. Instead of moving to AAFC research stations in Morden or Brandon, Fox resigned from AAFC this spring and started working for DL Seeds in July.
Fox said he is proudest of his two varieties AC Unity VB and Kane.
AC Unity was the first midge-tolerant wheat registered in Canada and is one of the most popular hard red spring wheats grown in Western Canada.
Kane was once the most popular wheat grown in Manitoba and last year ranked third with 307,774 acres accounting for 14 per cent of the province’s 2.2 million acres of hard red spring wheat.
“You have a lot of hope for all of them but clearly some do better than others,” he said.
Shaw is the first wheat variety Fox developed from start to finish. The cross was made in 2001.
“I’ve been standing on (retired AAFC wheat breeder) Fred Townley-Smith’s shoulders for quite a while and with any luck there will be some other guy standing on mine for quite a while,” Fox said, noting he has four wheats in their third and final year of registration trials. He expects at least one will be recommended for registration in 2014.
Fox also has high hopes for Cardale, one of his newer varieties to hit the market.
Former MSGA president Terry Rempel received the MSGA’s “Outstanding Service Award.”
Rempel, who farmed and operated a seed business at Springstein, served 10 years on the MSGA’s board from 1997 to 2007, including two years as president.
“He was professional and well spoken whenever representing MSGA and his influence is still being felt positively in the association,” McLean said.
Rempel and his wife Lorna sold their farm in 2009 and now live in Lorette.
Rempel is currently working with Intel Seed marketing an optical sorter and with Farmers Edge as its lead seed crop inspector under the new crop privatized pedigreed crop inspection program.
Carol McLennan of Mather received the MSGA’s 2013 scholarship award. Sons and daughters of active seed grower members who are pursuing post-secondary studies are eligible to apply for the $1,200 scholarship.
McLennan is the daughter of Don and Elaine McLennan, who farm and produce pedigreed seed at Mather.