The Pioneers of Hybrid Corn in Canada

This is a revision of a column printed originally in Ontario Farmer in 2004. It’s reposted here with permission. The original column was a sequel to another one describing origins of hybrid corn in all of North America. It has been re-written and is located at https://tdaynard.com/2019/10/25/a-brief-history-of-the-hybrid-corn-industry/ . This column contains the names of more people than is my norm but I feel it important that these individuals (mostly corn breeders) be recognized.

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The breakthrough discovery in 1919 by researcher Donald Jones in Connecticut on how to use double-cross corn hybrids led immediately to the establishment of many public corn inbreeding programs across North America.  One of these was at the newly renamed Dominion Experimental Station at Harrow, Ontario (created originally in 1909 as the ‘Tobacco Station’) where A.E. Mathews from the Central Experimental Farm, Canada Department of Agriculture, Ottawa began corn inbreeding in 1923.  When Mathews died soon afterwards, the work was continued by Dr. Fred Dimmock who spent his summers breeding corn at Harrow while returning to his home base in Ottawa in the off seasons.

Unfortunately, the European corn borer also came to Essex County in the early 1920s, after first appearing first near St. Thomas Ontario in 1909 or 1910.

(Note that this is before the first report of corn borer in the United States near Boston Massachusetts in 1917. The arrival in St. Thomas was blamed on a broom factory that imported broom-corn from central or eastern Europe. By comparison, the European corn borer did not arrive in Illinois until about 1939, and in Iowa a year or so later.)

The resulting damage was so severe that grain corn acreage in Essex and Kent Counties declined by 75% from 1922 to 1928. Yield losses were 100% on many farms. The Harrow corn breeding nursery was virtually destroyed during the devastating years of 1926- 1928. All breeding work was then stopped at Harrow and Dimmock shifted his inbreeding program to Ottawa, including what genetic materials remained from the catastrophe at Harrow.

By the early 1930s, the severity of damage caused by the insects had abated somewhat – in part because of a new provincial mandate that all corn stalks be plowed under 100% before winter – and corn acreage slowly recovered.

Hugh Ferguson is said to be the first Canadian farmer to grow a hybrid corn crop, in 1934 at Woodslee, using seed imported from Wisconsin. Interest in hybrids grew rapidly, thanks to their higher yields and stalk strength, even though they were very late in maturity.

Corn breeding resumed at Harrow in 1939 under the supervision of Dr. G.F.H. Buckley and his assistant Glenn Mortimore.  ‘Mort,’ who I knew well, became the corn breeder when Buckley retired in 1958. Although Harrow inbreds and hybrids became important to Canadian farmers in the years to follow, the U.S. was the sole source of hybrid varieties as usage expanded from about 10% of Kent and Essex corn acreage in 1939, to 50% in 1940, to virtually 100% in 1944.

Especially valuable were inbreds and hybrids from the University of Wisconsin breeding program of Dr. Norman Neal.  A New Zealander, Neal arrived in Wisconsin in 1920 wanting to study perennial forages. But fortunately for corn farmers in the northern Corn Belt, he was persuaded to breed corn instead. It was a ‘Wis-bred’ hybrid that Hugh Ferguson first grew.

My classmate and friend, Jim Cooper of Ridgetown, and former corn breeder for T.C. Warwick and Sons at Blenheim, recalls how Dr.  Neal was a regular visitor to Ontario and an advisor to Jim’s breeding program until the 1970s when Norman was more than 70 years old.

Oliver Wilcox grew the first hybrid seed in Ontario at Woodslee in 1938 (42 ½ bu of seed from one acre) using single-cross parents imported from Wisconsin. Wilcox, then a student at the Ontario Agricultural College, credits Professor G.P. McRostie for triggering this initiative. Wilcox later partnered with Tom Pogue and A.B. Reid in creating Essex Hybrids at St. Clair Beach, Ontario, and was killed in World War II.

The success of Wisconsin hybrids led to the creation in 1939 of a system whereby Wisconsin inbreds were self-pollinated to produce more inbred seed at the Harrow station, and single-cross hybrids were then produced by crossing pairs of these inbreds at the Ridgetown Experimental Farm. The resulting single-cross seed was then turned over to selected seed corn growers to produce double-cross hybrid seed for sale to farmers.  Initially called ‘Wisconsin’ hybrids, these they were renamed ‘Canada’ hybrids in 1940.  For example, ‘Wisconsin 606’ became ‘Canada 606.’  The Harrow-Ridgetown program produced more than 50% of Canadian hybrid corn seed planted by 1947, but was discontinued in 1953 because of the then market dominance by privately produced/owned corn hybrids.

Some well-known seedsmen growing ‘Canada’ hybrids were Ian Maynard and Nap King in Kent County – and Adrien Tellier and the three founders of Essex Hybrids in Essex County.  There were another 10-15 smaller producers/dealers of ‘Canada’ hybrids during the 1940s.

Private hybrids were also popular from near the beginning.  Jim Jubenville began growing Pioneer hybrid corn on his Tilbury farm in the late 1930s.  In 1940, he secured Pioneer’s Canadian marketing rights and began producing hybrid seed.  Pioneer later bought the business back from Jubenville, and moved it to Chatham. The DeKalb Agricultural Association of Illinois established a Canadian company at Tilbury in 1941 (moved to Chatham three years later). Jim Grant at Cottam first produced Wisconsin hybrid seed in 1939 and, in 1942, began growing/marketing hybrids supplied by Funk Brothers in Illinois. Essex Hybrids began producing Pfister Associated Growers (PAG) hybrid seed in 1946.  Many other Canadian corn seed companies arose in the years to follow.

In 1946, Nap King at Pain Court produced the first Canadian-bred hybrid, ‘Harvic 300,’ developed using two Harrow inbreds and two U.S. inbreds. Nap renamed it ‘K300’ as one of his ‘Golden Seal Hybrids.’ Other Harvic hybrids were also marketed under other commercial names.  ‘Harvic’ came from ‘Harrow’ and ‘Victory’ (a reference to World War II). Nap subsequently developed a seed production and marketing arrangement with Pride Seeds in Wisconsin in 1950.

The hybrid, ‘Pride 5,’ introduced in 1958, and promoted actively by Professor George Jones at the Ontario Agricultural College, was the first widely grown hybrid corn in many sub-2900 corn-heat-unit regions of Ontario during the early-to-mid 1960s.

During the early hybrid era, all grain corn (known then as ‘husking corn’) was harvested on the ear and stored and dried naturally in cribs.  But because the germination percentage of crib-managed corn was too low for hybrid seed corn production, artificial drying was needed.  Before 1939 there were only two artificial corn dryers in Ontario – one at Walkerville near Windsor, used to dry corn for distilling, and a seed corn dryer at the Harrow station (followed soon by one at Ridgetown).

Doug Bailey at Chatham, who began working for Jim Grant in 1952, recalled Jim’s story of how, in 1939, he converted a small pig barn into a seed corn dryer, complete with movable barriers to reverse the air flow periodically to ensure even drying.  The fan was run by a tractor and the burner fuel was coal.  Doug managed the dryer at night, while bagging the dried, shelled corn kernels.  Seed was later graded and sized, and then rebagged for retail during the winter.

Nap King’s first seed corn dryer was a double corn crib with a central blower and a coal-fired burner.  When it burned in 1947 (along with most of his other seed-business buildings at Pain Court) he built a second dryer of similar design.  Similar coal or wood-fired dryers were common for other early seed producers.

Dr. Lorne Donovan succeeded Fred Dimmock at Ottawa in 1961.  Collectively, they produced many early-maturing inbreds.  Several companies used these to produce the superior hybrids which triggered a rapid expansion in Ontario grain corn acreage during the 1960s and 1970s.  ‘United 108,’ an important early hybrid, was a single cross between two Ottawa inbreds.

Dr. R.I. (Bob) Hamilton – who had been breeding corn before then at the Agriculture Canada research station at Brandon, Manitoba – succeeded Donovan at Ottawa in 1983, followed by Dr. Lana Reid in 1998.  This breeding program continues today. Serious corn inbred development was initiated at the Ontario Agricultural College by Dr. Ed Gamble in 1956.  Dr. Lyn Kannenberg and Dr. Bruce Hunter assumed the responsibilities in the late 1960s, followed by Dr. Elizabeth Lee in 1998. Liz located her breeding nursery on our farm near Guelph for about 19 years.

The first public corn breeding program in Canada was started by Dr.  L.S. Klink at Macdonald College (now part of McGill University) in Quebec in 1907. The first ‘hybrids’ from Macdonald were actually varietal hybrids (crosses between open-pollinated varieties) and these enjoyed some success grown for silage in Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec.

The earliest-maturing corn variety in the world, Gaspé Flint that has only eight primary leaves, was discovered growing in Quebec by Dr. R.I. (Bob) Brawn, a corn breeder who came to Macdonald after Dr. Klink.

Valuable corn inbreeding programs followed both there and at the University of Manitoba and the Agriculture Canada station at Morden, Manitoba. Dr. W.A. (Bill) Russell, renown for his accomplishments as a corn breeder at Iowa State University, was raised in Manitoba and began his career as a corn breeder at Morden He succeeded S.B. Helgason who began the corn breeding program there in 1939. Dr. John Giesbrecht followed Russell as the corn breeder at Morden.

Some of the world’s best very-early-maturing inbreds originated at Morden. One Morden inbred was a parent of the legendary early hybrid, Pride 5. The University of Manitoba and Morden programs have since been terminated.

After Glenn Mortimore’s retirement in 1975, corn breeding continued at Harrow under the respective leadership of Dr. Tom Francis, Dr. Domenico Bagnara, and Dr. Dick Buzzell, before being terminated in 1983.

Other Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada were Dr. M.D. MacDonald at Lethbridge Alberta, Dr. M. Hudon and Dr. M.S. Chiang (breeding for corn borer resistance) at St. Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, and Dr. I.S. Ogilvie at L’Assomption, Quebec.

In a table below, I have attempted to list all the individuals who have served as commercial corn breeders in Canada since the introduction of hybrid corn. There are more than 40 names in the table and I am sure that I am missing some. Commercial breeding has dominated Canadian inbred and hybrid development since the 1970s, and the collective contribution of private corn breeders to Canadian agriculture has been huge.

But corn could not have achieved its present stature in Canadian agriculture without public breeding. Because the origin of inbred parents for commercial hybrids is rarely identified, farmers are seldom aware of the importance – both historic and present – of public breeding in corn hybrid development.

Canadians, both food producers and food consumers, have benefited immensely from the efforts of both public and private corn breeders.

Canadian private-sector corn breeders
First Name Last Name Company Year first employed
Ardeshir Ahmadzadeh Hyland (W.G. Thompson) 2007
Ardeshir Ahmadzadeh Dow 2010
Gary Bettman Dekalb 1983
Huey Chang Pfizer Genetics 1970s
Edward (Ed) Coatsworth T.C. Warwick and Sons 1960s
Travis Coleman Pioneer 2014
James (Jim) Cooper T.C. Warwick and Sons 1969
James (Jim) Cooper Pickseed 1976
Michael (Mike) Cramer Allellix 1970s
Michael (Mike) Cramer Limagrain 1970s
Thomas (Tom) Crozier Stewart Seeds 1967
Thomas (Tom) Davidson Cargill 1970s
Adrian de Dreu Syngenta 2000
Adrian de Dreu De Dell 2000s
Edward (Ed) Fonseca Dekalb 1980s
Thomas (Tom) Francis Northrup King 1980
Gustavo Garcia Pioneer 1998
John Giesbrecht Self employed, alliance with KWS 1970s
Ramsis Girgis United Cooperatives of Ontario 1960s
Francis Glenn T.C. Warwick and Sons 1974
Francis Glenn Pfizer Genetics 1977
Francis Glenn Glenn Seeds 1980
Robert Glenn Glenn Seeds 2004
Gustavo Gonzalez-Roelants DeKalb/Monsanto 2003
Ian Grant Allellix, then Pioneer 1970s
Steve Hasak Hyland (W.G. Thompson) 1977
Leon Hendrickx Pioneer 2009
Alejandro Hernandez First Line 1987
Bruce Hunter Ciba-Geigy 1995
Bert Innis Mycogen 1970s
George Jones Stewart Seeds 1971
Charles Knoblauch Maple Leaf Mills (United)-Asgrow 1983
Philip (Phil) Krakar United Cooperatives of Ontario 1970s
Steve Kuzir Pride Seeds (King Grain) 1980s
Srecko (Felix) Lauc Maple Leaf Mills (United)-Asgrow 1970s
Srecko (Felix) Lauc Hyland (W.G. Thompson) 1975
Sresko (Felix) Lauc AgriSeed 1980s
William (Bill) Leask Maple Leaf Mills (United)-Asgrow 1976
Donald (Don) LeDrew Dekalb 1977
Margo Lee Glenn Seeds 2013
Rafael Mateo Monsanto/Bayer (DeKalb) 2006
Wallace (Wally) Migus Dekalb 1985
Jean Marc Montpetit Pioneer 2009
Edward (Ed) Peterson Funk’s 1980s
Jon Popi DeKalb/Monsanto/Bayer 1997
Vladimir (Vlado) Puskaric Pioneer 1983
Frank Scott-Pearse Pride Seeds (King Grain) 1960s
William (Bill) Sieveking Maple Leaf Mills (United) 1960s
Bruce Skillings Ciba-Geigy 1995
Darrel Tremunde Dekalb 1990s
Antoon Van der Reijden Ag Reliant Genetics 2000
Mohan Vatticonda Cargill, then Mycogen, then Dow 1980s
Stipe Vujevic Hyland (W.G. Thompson), then Dow 1999
John (Jack) Watson Pioneer 1969
Shawn Winter Maizex 2005

 

I’ll be most appreciative of notifications of errors and omissions. TerryDaynard@gmail.com .

Sources of information:

Several published sources are listed below. However, much of the content of this column comes from personal interviews with Canadian corn hybrid ‘pioneers’ – many of whom are no longer living. These include: Doug Bailey, Bob Braun, Ed Gamble, George Jones, Nap King (aka Napoléon Roy) and Glenn Mortimore. Thanks also to Byron Beeler, Jim Cooper, John Cowan, Tom Francis, Gustavo Garcia, Francis Glenn, Gustavo Gonzalez-Roelants, Bruce Hunter, Peter Hannam, Paul King/Roy (son of Nap King/Roy), Doug Knight, Bill Leask, Don LeDrew, David Morris, Bob Pryce, Peter Robson, Marty Vermey and Shawn Winter – all very much alive – for their extensive help and historical knowledge provided during the writing of this article.

Giesbtecht, John. 1976. Corn Breeding in Manitoba. Canada Agriculture 21 (4): 22-23.

Keddie, P.D. 1974. The Corn Borer Period, 1923 to 1940. The Effects of an Insect Pest on the Production of Corn for Grain in Southern Ontario. Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Ontario 125: 10-22.

Miller, Win. 1999. For Love of the Land, Biography of Napoleon U. Roy). Published by Roy Investment Ltd.

Pegg, Leonard. 1988. Pulling Tassels. Blenheim Publishers Ltd. This is undoubtedly the best published source of information on the Ontario corn seed industry from about 1900 to 1950.

I am also indebted to Dr. Lana Reid (Ottawa) and Debbie Lockrey-Wessel (Harrow) for providing unpublished copies of the histories of corn breeding in Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, especially at the Central Experimental Farm (Ottawa) and the research station at Harrow.

Why Do We Grow Yellow Dent Corn?

This column was published originally in the Ontario Farmer in 2004. Reproduced here with permission.

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For large parts of the world – notably Mexico, most countries in Latin America and Africa where corn consumption often dominates human diets – corn kernels are white. But at least 99% of North American grain corn is yellow – indeed, almost always yellow dent corn. It’s also mostly yellow in Europe and Asia. Why is that?

As it turns out, it was not always so. And the reason why that’s now true is largely a fluke of history. Here’s the full story.

From its origins about 7000 years or so in Mexico, corn had diversified dramatically before Columbus’s arrival in the New World. There were at least 300 different corn races (most still existent in local production or ‘gene banks’). Kernels ranged from three millimetres to more than three centimeters across; kernel textures varied from very hard (flint) to very soft (floury), and there was every colour possible – black, brown, purple, red, green, orange, yellow and white – often with several different colours on the same kernel. Hopi Indian corn still grown in Arizona is typically blue.

Strangest of all was/is pod corn where the normally small glumes (farmers often call them ‘red dog’) at the base of kernels are so large that they cover the entire kernel – like the glumes of wheat.  Though once considered a relic of wild corn, we now know it is only an interesting mutant. William Emerson wrote in 1878 “a species of corn has a separate husk for each kernel” because of “the efforts of the plant to resist the coldness of the climate”, a fascinating though incorrect explanation.

Number of ears per plant also varies – from one at virtually every leaf axil with Argentinian pop corn, to only one per plant with modern corn hybrids grown at standard seeding rates. For more info on corn races, see chapter one by William Brown and Major Goodman in Corn and Corn Improvement.

When colonists first reached present-day Canada and the eastern United States, aboriginal farmers mainly grew two races of corn.  In the south was ‘gourdseed’ with soft, white, long, thin, deeply indented kernels in up to 48 kernel rows on relatively short, squatty cobs. In Canada and the northern US was ‘flint’ corn with large, round, hard kernels in eight to twelve rows on long narrow cobs.  Flint kernels were mostly white or yellow but other colours were common.

The chance discovery of an infrequent red-kernelled ear at a husking bee meant a gift of already husked ears from other bee participants in aboriginal times – or a kiss from lad or lass of choice (or a round of whiskey) during colonial days.

There was some aboriginal mixing of corn north and south.  When the Tuscarora Indians moved from the Carolinas to New York State in about 1720 to become the final member of the Six Nations, they brought their soft, white corn.  When they later moved to Ontario in about 1784, the Tuscarora white corn came too.

The first European settlers grew the local native corn, but intermixing occurred as settlers or their descendants moved up and down the Atlantic seaboard, and westward.  Many of the early settlers in southwestern Ontario came from the US and brought corn seed with them. Gourdseed and flint corn were both grown in Essex and Kent counties (the most southwesterly counties in southern Ontario) before 1800.

As the annual selection of ears for next-year’s seed continued – sometimes by plan and sometimes at random – there arose hundreds of corn varieties. Sometimes the same variety was grown under many different names. I’ve read one tale from southwestern Ontario where customers could order several different varieties of seed corn at the store front, but the seed all came from the same barrel or two at the back.

In 1751, botanist Peter Kalm described two main types of corn growing in the Atlantic colonies and Canada – “big corn” (or full-season corn), and early-maturing ‘small’ or ‘three-month corn,’ both with a wide range of colours. But a century or more later, with corn farming well established west of the Allegheny-Appalachian Mountains and expanding further, there were many more names. One of the most fascinating was Mammoth White that produced ears typically more than 13 inches in length and circumference.

Natural cross-pollination between flint and gourdseed plants grown together resulted in offspring plants with corn kernels, which were intermediate in shape and structure between the two parental types.  This became known as dent corn.

There were lots of different varieties in Ontario too. Mr. Iler, an Essex County farmer, reported to the Ontario Agricultural Commission in 1880, “the varieties generally grown are the large yellow and white Gourd Seed, though the yellow and white Flint are also grown.” In the early 1900s, some popular Ontario varieties were Wisconsin 7 (white dent), Bailey (yellow dent), White Cap Yellow Dent (yellow dent with white caps), Golden Glow (yellow dent), Longfellow Flint (yellow), Salzer’s North Dakota (white flint), Silver King (white dent), and Early Leaming (yellow dent).

Nap King of Pain Court, near Chatham Ontario, said that when he started in the corn seed business in 1934, most of these were still popular in Ontario, as was Bloody Butcher, a red dent variety. Yellow dent corn was most common, but white corn was grown for corn flakes and other milled products.

Among the many North American corn varieties, a few proved to have much greater long-term significance.

Isaac Hershey, a Mennonite farmer in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania spent many years blending a late, rough-eared gourdseed-type corn with an early maturing flint.  Natural cross-pollination and selection of desirable ears at harvest for next year’s crop led to the creation of a new yellow dent variety called Lancaster Sure Crop.  It gave consistently good yields, even though known for its rough ears and lack of uniformity.  This variety later became a major source of inbreds.

Robert Reid moved west from Cincinnati to Peoria, Illinois in 1845, and brought with him seeds of a reddish gourdseed variety called Gordon Hopkins originally from Virginia. Because of its more southern origins, this variety matured poorly in its first year at Peoria.  Seed quality was poor and the stand emergence thin in the spring of 1847. So Mr. Reid filled in the gaps in early June with seeds of a short-season flint variety called Little Yellow.  Reid liked the resulting yellow dent ears created by natural cross-pollination between the two original varieties, and the yields were good. His son, James, continued to improve the new blended variety, called Reid’s Yellow Dent.

In 1893, Reid’s Yellow Dent won first prize at the Chicago World’s Fair.  Reid’s variety was subsequently used as the genetic base for many other yellow dent varieties.  These included the widely grown Funk’s Yellow Dent produced by Eugene Funk, founder of Funk’s Seeds at Bloomington, Illinois, perhaps the world’s largest seed corn marketer in the early1900s.

But the greatest push came from P. G. Holden, a Michigan farm boy, who worked briefly for Eugene Funk and was then hired by Henry C. Wallace in 1902 to join Iowa State College. (Wallace’s son, Henry A., later founded the Pioneer Hybrid Corn Company.) Holden crossed Iowa many times in a railcar called the ‘Corn Train’ championing corn improvement and the production of Reid’s Yellow Dent.  His promotion was so effective that Reid’s became the dominant corn in Iowa, just as other varieties derived from Reid’s variety were becoming popular in other Corn-belt states. And because Reid’s corn was yellow dent, most Midwest corn became yellow dent, even though white corn had been just about as popular before then.

Reid’s Yellow Dent became a major source of early corn inbreds for hybrids. Early Midwest corn hybrid breeders learned early that inbreds developed from Reid’s crossed well (good hybrid vigour) with inbreds from Lancaster Sure Crop. The variety Iodent, developed by Iowa State College (now Iowa State University) in the early 1900s from Reid’s Yellow Dent, is still an important original source of corn inbreds. Newer inbreds are mostly earlier maturing, higher yielding, more pest resistant, with better stalks and grain quality, but are still yellow dent.

Hence, ‘corn’ as it is now grown in North American, usually means yellow dent. White corn is grown mostly as only a milling crop. But if Robert Reid or Isaac Lancaster had started with white varieties, or if a white corn variety had won at Chicago, or if Holden had promoted a white corn variety, or if the first successful Midwest inbreds had been white, most North American would likely be white today.

(They’re virtually identical nutritionally. Yellow corn obviously is higher in the yellow-coloured beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A. Important as that is in parts of the world where grains dominate human nutrition, it’s largely non-significant in North American diets containing many other sources of beta-carotene.)

Such are the quirks of history.

Some references:

Crabb, Richard. 1992. The Hybrid Corn-Makers, Golden Anniversary edition. West Chicago Publishing Company.

Fussell, Betty. 1992. The Story of Corn. University of New Mexico Press.

Kalm, Peter. 1751. Description of Maize. Translated by M. Oxholm and S. Chase from original in Swedish. Economic Botany 28:105-117, 1974.

Pegg, Leonard. 1988. Pulling Tassels. Blenheim Publishers Ltd.

Wallace, Henry A. and William A. Brown. Corn and its Early Fathers, revised edition. 1988. Iowa State University Press.

A Look at UK and Canadian Stats on Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Emissions

In January 2020 I posted a series of tweets about an announced plan by British farmers to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2040 and also looked at how easy this might be for Canadian agriculture. For the convenience of web searchers looking for this type of information and at a future date, I have reproduced them below – along with some comments added as a result of related Twitter discussion.

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I’m impressed with an initiative announced in 2019 by @NFUtweets to achieve zero net GHG emissions for British agriculture by 2040. https://nfuonline.com/nfu-online/business/regulation/achieving-net-zero-farmings-2040-goal/…. This thread includes some analysis from a Canadian perspective, and an examination of corresponding Canadian data.

The NFU report is based on 2017 UK stats showing total national agricultural GHG emissions of 45.6 Mt CO2 equivalent – or about 10% of the UK total. The agricultural number includes CO2, CH4 and N20 losses from fertilizer usage, livestock, manure and on-farm fuel use, though not from changes in agricultural soil org matter content.

If you include UK agricultural soil CO2 emissions – positive for cropland, negative for grassland – and allow for off-farm agricultural transport, the UK total is slightly larger at 49.8 Mt – perhaps 11% of UK total GHG emissions. The UK data are here, https://theccc.org.uk/publication/net-zero-technical-report/…. See also, https://royalsociety.org/-/media/policy/projects/greenhouse-gas-removal/royal-society-greenhouse-gas-removal-report-2018.pdf…

The NFU plan involves about 9 Mt CO2 equivalent (or 20%) removed by on-farm carbon sequestration and up to 22 MT (~50%) as bioenergy from agriculture with the CO2 emission from bioenergy combustion captured and stored underground. The report also mentions potential longer-term use of biochar.

The NFU’s projected on-farm sequestration may be a stretch given pressures to convert from livestock (perennial forages) to arable agriculture. Also, CO2 capture and storage is a largely-still-to-be-developed technology as of year 2020.

But as the analyses to follow indicate, the Canadian agricultural challenge may be even larger. Canadian GHG emission stats for 2017 (the latest available) are in three on-line volumes, all available at: http://publications.gc.ca/site/eng/9.506002/publication.html… .

Here are links to the Executive Summary and Part 1 containing the main data. (Parts 2 and 3 have more details about calculations.) https://canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/services/climate-change/greenhouse-gas-emissions/sources-sinks-executive-summary-2019.html… http://publications.gc.ca/collections/collection_2019/eccc/En81-4-2017-1-eng.pdf… .

GHG emissions for Canada totalled 716 Mt CO2 equivalent in 2017, marginally less than the 730 Mt in 2005 but well up from the 602 Mt in 1990. These numbers don’t include CO2 sequestration by agricultural soils and forestry (more on this later).

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Agricultural emissions are about 8.4% of Canadian total according to these graphs.

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But these data don’t include on-farm fuel usage. If you include that, the agricultural total comes to 72 Mt CO2 equivalent, or about 10% of Canadian total. This total is little changed from 2005 but up from 1990.

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Within agriculture, GHG data since 2005 have shown a decrease in GHG emissions from ruminants and manure, but an offsetting increase in N2O emissions from soil linked to more N fertilizer usage.

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This table shows agricultural soil sequestration in Kt/year CO2 equivalent attributable to less summer fallow, more no-tillage, and shifts between annual and perennial crops. (Histosols means organic soils.) Calculations assume that the per-ha/per-year no-till benefit decreases annually from date of implementation.

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This table, prepared using the Canadian data, shows sums of agricultural emissions minus agricultural soil sequestration of carbon. One weakness in the input data is the lack of recognition of the increased soil sequestration with higher yields (eg., with increased fertilization).

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One major conclusion: Canadian agriculture faces a huge challenge if it’s to cut net GHG emissions by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030, as per the Canadian Paris Accord commitment – let alone 100% by 2040 or 2050 (See, https://canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/services/environmental-indicators/progress-towards-canada-greenhouse-gas-emissions-reduction-target.html…).

Here are some additional comments not in the original Twitter thread:

There is debate about the inclusion of a credit for all of the carbon in organic matter fixed photosynthetically by crop plants. If the fixed carbon is converted to CO2 quite quickly, say within a year or less – as in crop residue left on the surface and not converted to longer-term soil organic matter – or harvested as grain, seed and/or forage and consumed soon after as livestock or human food – this is not included in the calculations as it is assumed to represent neither a longer-term source nor sink.

But what about the carbon in crop products/commodities exported to other countries? The IPCC calculations give no C credit to the exporting country or debit to importer, but maybe they should. Where exports are involved, the IPCC generally assigns GHG emissions associated with manufacturing/production to the country where that occurs, rather than the country where consumption occurs. However, one exception occurs with  petroleum and its energy products where GHG emissions are credited to the country of consumption. That’s why, for example, Canada gets assigned the GHG emissions associated with oil extraction, processing and shipment – but not combustion if/when that occurs in another country.

Another anomaly occurs with biofuels. From one perspective, the grain and oilseeds used to make fuel ethanol and biodiesel are no different that that used to produce food and feed. The CO2 fixed during the growing season is mostly returned to CO2 within a year. But, ethanol and biodiesel used as fuel result in important reductions in net GHG emissions associated with transportation fuel – i.e., by comparison with the hydrocarbons they replace. That credit goes to the transportation fuel manufacturers under IPCC accounting. Should it go to agriculture – as what the UK NFU proposes to address about 50% of their strategy for meeting a zero-emission goal by 2040? It depends on perspective.

One final comment: While discussion such as that in the preceding three paragraphs stimulates active discussion within agricultural circles, ultimate judgments on credits for cuts in net GHG emissions for agriculture will depend on calculation procedures dictated by IPCC. Here’s an index to IPCC calculation protocols. My impression is that it is extremely difficult to effect changes especially if driven by one country and/or one industry. That’s a hurdle that farm groups in many countries will face as they attempt to develop and get credit for strategies to reduce net GHG emission through innovative uses of agricultural products.

A special thanks to farmer Fraser McPhee at Dauphin Manitoba for his commitment to a better understanding of GHG emissions in Canadian agriculture – and for the useful discussion which triggered some of my discussion above. While Fraser and I don’t necessarily agree on everything, I do appreciate his dedicated efforts.