Manitoba zero-till pioneer inducted into conservation hall of fame

Robert (Bob) McNabb called for greater passion for soil, aligning profit with ecology

Robert (Bob) McNabb, with wife Elaine, was inducted into the Canadian Conservation 
Hall of Fame on November 13.

Manitoba farmer Robert (Bob) McNabb called for greater passion for soil as he was inducted into the Canadian Conservation Hall of Fame in Winnipeg, November 13.

In his acceptance address, McNabb called on those gathered to approach soil conservation with the same passion as teenage, Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg.

“If we could get on that same kind of level with that, we could really bring some sustainability to this and civilization would be so much better for it,” said McNabb.

Through the Conservation Hall of Fame, the Soil Conservation Council of Canada recognizes those who have made an outstanding and national contribution to the care of soil along with the water, air and environment which soil affects, SCCC’s website says.

McNabb farmed for many years near Minnedosa, where he applied zero-tillage methods and later added a rotation of permanent grasses for custom grazing. He said in 35 years of farming, they were able to triple their soil organic matter.

McNabb also spent time in Zimbabwe where he co-ordinated a Canadian International Development Agency-funded agricultural project. Along with locals, he wrote manuals on conservation farming and zero-tillage practices.

For this and other work, McNabb was inducted into the Manitoba Agricultural Hall of Fame in 2014.

However, as early adopters of zero tillage, they were under a lot of peer pressure, McNabb said. Their fields were covered with residue, while their neighbours’ were black with neatly sprouting crops. This led one of his children to ask, “Did Dad screw up again?” McNabb said.

McNabb said the book Top Soil and Civilization by Tom Dale and Vernon Gill Carter cemented his ideas about soil conservation. The book, written in the 1950s, surveys how past empires depleted their soil and agricultural base, which contributed to their collapse.

“We really haven’t changed a lot,” McNabb said. “We’re still losing topsoil. We’re not treating soil with the health that could be, and every civilization in the past (that) has been a downfall — that’s not probably going to change unless we’re able to change some things.”

McNabb said he sees young farmers who look at farming in terms of profit, not soil health.

“The profit should be driven by ecology,” he said. “We need to find ways to motivate an attention to soil health. I’m not just sure how to do that.”

About the author


Geralyn Wichers

Geralyn Wichers grew up on a hobby farm near Anola, Manitoba, where her family raised cattle, pigs and chickens. Geralyn graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in 2019 and was previously a reporter for The Carillon in Steinbach. Geralyn is also a published author of science fiction and fantasy novels.



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