How Well are Canada and Canadian Agriculture Doing in Reducing Net GHG Emissions – In Comparison with International Commitments and Other Countries?

2020-08-07 15_24_54-Window

The world, unfortunately, is full of distorted information about climate change and the value and effectiveness of corrective actions being undertaken in response. The confusion includes reports on how well Canada and Canadian agriculture are doing relative to international commitments, and compared to other countries.

This article provides a summary of what I’ve learned in reviewing data that Canada and other developed nations submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in April 2020. The data are for the year 2018 and previous years going back to 1990.

I’ve written this article for the benefit of those with interests in agriculture, climate change and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions but who lack the time to review the topic in any detail. I’ve tried my best to write without any praise or condemnations in providing a layman’s summary of what the data say. At the end, I’ll provide links to more extensive information.

My conclusions can be summarized in a few bullet-points. However, please read the whole article to understand the basis for the statements, including supporting data.

  1. As of 2018, Canada had made essentially no progress in meeting its Paris Accord commitment for a 30% reduction in GHG emissions over the interval 2005 to 2030. Indeed, it has generally fared less well than other developed countries for which I’ve checked the data, including the United States.
  2. There was essentially no change in net GHG emissions from Canadian agriculture over the period 2005 to 2018, at least with the reporting protocol used by UNFCCC. That conclusion holds whether carbon sequestration in agricultural soils is included or not. However, Canada appears to be no different in this regard than other developed countries.
  3. The UNFCCC reporting section for agriculture is dominated by emissions associated with livestock agriculture (ruminant methane and manure storage) and the application of nitrogen fertilizers, lime and other amendments to soil. These emissions are mostly methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O). To these gross emission numbers reported in the Agriculture section of national reports to UNFCCC, one can add net emissions (positive or negative, and mostly CO2) from cropland soils. The latter are summarized in another section of the National Inventory Reports called Land Use, Land-Use Changes and Forestry (LULUCF).
  4. Unfortunately, the summation exercise is more difficult for data on emissions caused by on-farm fossil energy combustion and the reduction in national GHG emissions caused by use of biofuels made from agricultural feedstocks. I’ve done this calculation for Canada but it proved to be essentially impossible for me to do this in a consistent way for other countries. The inclusion of fossil fuel usage increases the calculated GHG emissions for agriculture in Canada. However, inclusion of biofuel data means about a 10% decrease in 2018 Canadian agricultural net emissions. That percentage increased substantially after 2005. When you add all numbers together – reported ‘agricultural’ emissions, LULUCF for cropland, farm fossil fuel usage and biofuels – the resulting sum for Canadian agriculture is identical for 2005 and 2018.
  5. The UNFCCC reporting protocol has been heavily criticized by agricultural scientists and others for two major reasons: i) lack of recognition of the fact that methane has a much shorter existence (half-life) in atmosphere than other major GHG, and ii) the accounting does not recognize the carbon stored in food and other agricultural products. Both of these will affect any analysis of the effect of changes in agricultural practices on climate change. However, unless or until the calculation protocol is changed, agriculture will likely be judged in most GHG discussions on the data now reported to UNFCCC.

Canada was one of the countries that created the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1992 with attendant commitments to provide an annual accounting of national human-made greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.  Canada has been a party to international agreements made since then to reduce net emissions by certain percentages by specified dates. Although the Government of Canada renounced its initial commitment for reductions under the Kyoto Protocol, it is part of the more recent Paris Accord, committing Canada and other countries to reduce net emissions by 30% by year 2030 compared to base year 2005. Details on the Canadian commitment are here.

Fossil hydrocarbon combustion is recognized universally as the dominant source of anthropogenic (human-made) GHG emissions. However, agriculture is also a significant GHG source globally, according to data submitted to UNFCCC using reporting protocols specified by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Agriculture has come under intense criticism at times because of this fact.

Claims about agricultural contributions have been often exaggerated by those who oppose the inherent structure of modern agriculture – and are eager to use GHG emissions to further their individual causes. Agricultural organizations, in turn, have emphasized the critical need for food production in sufficient quantities and at an affordable cost of production to feed a world population approaching 10 billion people. Proponents of various types of agriculture have been eager to show (often using carefully selected data, and often in disagreement with each other) that their type of agriculture is superior to others from a GHG-emission perspective.

In April 2020, the Government of Canada, like many other countries, submitted its annual National Inventory Report (NIR) on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and sinks to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change UNFCCC). These reports are for emissions in calendar year 2018 and can be accessed here. Scroll down to the specific country, then click on “NIR.” More basic data for each country are available in Excel spread-sheet format, labelled “CRF,” at the same site.

I posted a Twitter thread soon after the April release, summarizing a few highlights with a focus on Canadian agriculture, while promising a more detailed analysis to follow. Hence this article.

First a quick explanation: The UNFCCC reporting protocol is designed for simplicity in reporting (not that it’s very simple) and, for the most part, does not provide comprehensive summarization by economic or cultural sectors. That can cause confusion, as discussed below. The Government of Canada does provide a modest economic sectoral summation in its report though, in the case of agriculture, the Canadian summary actually adds confusion.

I’ve provided my own summations below.

Remember that the reports to UNFCCC only go to the end of 2018, well before COVID- linked effects of 2020 were evident.

Canadian achievements in reducing new GHG emissions compared to Paris Accord commitments

A summary of total Canadian gross emissions is shown in Table ES-1 (copied below from the Canadian National Inventory Report, NIR). Values are expressed in Mt (million tonnes) of CO2 equivalent, recognizing that other greenhouse gases have different atmospheric heating effects compared to carbon dioxide (CO2). As the table shows, by 2018, about half way through the 2005-2030 timeframe, Canada had made virtually no progress towards meeting its Paris Accord commitment. A 3% reduction occurred from 2005 to 2016, but during the last two reporting years, that trend was reversed.

Blog GHG column Aug 2020 ES-1Without going into details that lie beyond the intended scope of this article, decreases in the energy used to produce electricity in Canada since 2005 have been countered by increases in energy used for road transportation and for oil and gas extraction – with most other GHG-producing sectors showing little change over the 13-year interval.

Authors of the Canadian NIR attempt to counter the weak Canadian record by emphasizing a reduction in GHG emissions relative to GDP (see table above and graph ES-1 below). But the Paris Accord is about absolute reductions, not reductions compared to GDP.

Blog GHG Aug 2020 ES-1 Fig

Neither the table nor graph shown above include values for a category called, Land Use, Land Use Changes and Forestry (LULUCF), which is essentially net CO2 conversion into soil organic matter and tree biomass. More on that below. However, the inclusion of LULUCF values in Table ES-1 would not change the overall conclusion; the LULUCF for Canada was only -13 Mt of CO2 equivalent (a net sink) in both 2005 and 2018.

Although Canada made no progress in meeting its Paris Accord commitments by 2018, the Government of Canada says it has a plan to meet the full 30% reduction (i.e. from 730 Mt CO2 equivalent in 2005 down to 511 Mt) by 2030. The plan is included in this December 2019 report to UNFCCC and key values are graphed below. In the graph, “2019 Reference Case” refers to measures the government says are well advanced, and “2019 Additional Measures” means ones in in various stages of development or consideration. Interestingly, the Government of Canada appears to include LULUCF offsets in its anticipated target for 2030, but not in the base value for 2005.

The conclusion from Figure 5.2 (below) seems clear. The Canadian ‘plan’ for reductions by 2030 is for a total reduction of only 19% (18% if you include LULUCF in both 2050 and 2030). A recent pledge by the Canadian Prime Minister that Canada will achieve 100% reduction by 2050 seems, at this stage, to be only a pipe-dream.

Blog GHG Aug 2020 5-2

Canadian Agriculture

For Canadian agriculture, NIR Table S-1 shows that total emissions increased prior to 2005 but have been essentially stable in years since. Note that the GHG values shown in Table S-1 are in thousands of tonnes of CO2 equivalent. Most of the agricultural emissions reported in NIR are in the form of CH4 from ruminant livestock, CH4 and N2O from manure management, and N2O release from soil with organic and synthetic fertilizer nitrogen application and from organic matter decomposition in the field. There is a moderate amount of CO2 released from the application of lime and urea to farm soils.

Blog GHG Aug 2020 5-1

The table for agriculture shown above does not include any credit for CO2 sequestration stored as soil organic matter (data are reported separately in the LULUCF chapter of the NIR), nor of CO2 emissions from on-farm fossil fuel combustion. Nor does it include any credit to agriculture for the use of biofuels made from agricultural feedstocks. Also missing are CO2 emissions caused by crop input manufacture (eg., N fertilizers).

Because of that, I have used data appearing elsewhere in the NIR report to make my own summations.

First, let’s look at NIR statistics on LULUCF (carbon sequestration) linked to agriculture. Table 6-1, shown below, is more complex than needed for my purpose as it shows all LULUCF values for Canada including the largest one, forestry. Note that conversion of CO2 into sinks means negative values, and soil/forest organic matter conversion to CO2 means positive values. The main values in the table relevant to Canadian agriculture are those for cropland; there are three sets of numbers – one for forest and grassland converted into cropland, one for cropland conversion to forest, and one for changes in management practices for cropland that remains cropland.

Blog GHG Aug 2020 6-1

More details on the changes in cropland management practices as they affect C sequestration in cropland soils are shown in Table 6-9.

Blog GHG Aug 2020 6-9

GHG sink credits are reported for converting cropland from annual crop production into perennials (and the reverse for perennials to annual crops), for adopting reduced/no tillage, and for cropland conversion from summer fallow. The assumed annual sink credit from conversion to perennial crops and reduced/no tillage diminishes gradually from a maximum value to zero over a number of years.

Histosols are organic soils.

The size of the annual agricultural soil sink for CO2 increased during the 15 years prior to 2005, to -11 Mt CO2, but this trend has reversed in years since – mainly because of conversion of perennial crop hectares into annual crop production. The LULUCF for Canadian agriculture in 2018 was -6.5 Mt CO2 (from Table 6-1).

The UNFCCC NIR protocol does not require countries to include, in their reporting, CO2 emissions associated with the sustainable use of biofuels, which Canada has assumed to mean all fuel ethanol and biodiesel used in transportation. The stats for biofuel consumption are reported in millions of litres in the following two NIR tables. Although the NIR does not show the equivalent CO2 values, it does list the conversion factors needed to make the calculations. I’ve shown the result of those calculations in the third table below.

Blog GHG Aug 2020 3-17

Blog GHG Aug 2020 3-18

Canadian Biofuel Consumption 2005 2018
Mt CO2 equivalent
Ethanol 0.4 3.9
Bio-diesel 0.0 2.2
Sum 0.4 6.1

The 6.1 Mt CO2 shown above for Canada in 2018 is effectively a credit to the energy sector in that CO2 emissions from biofuel combustion are not included in UNFCCC GHG sums for Canada. If this was an agricultural credit, it would reduce net agricultural emissions by about 10% (see calculations below).

On the subject of fuels, the NIR does not directly show statistics for on-fuel fossil fuel usage in agriculture, but the numbers can be calculated from values in other tables. On-farm fossil fuel usage declined from 15 Mt CO2 equivalent in 2005 to 14 Mt in 2018.

As for the manufacturing of inputs used in agriculture, this calculation is both very difficult and speculative, based on various assumptions and limited data, and the result is not likely to change the overall pattern of change in Canadian agricultural GHG emissions between 2005 and 2018 or by 2030. Also, these calculations are not required in UNFCCC reporting protocols.

One quantity of interest might be GHG emissions with the manufacture of ammonia to make farm fertilizers. Unfortunately, the NIR does not provide statistics on the portion of Canadian ammonia production used for fertilizer manufacture, but does note that most of the CO2 released in making ammonia is reabsorbed during the subsequent manufacture of urea.  Hence, I’ve not included an estimate of GHG balances associated with fertilizer manufacture. Even if included, it would be highly unlikely to have affected the pattern of annual changes reported after 2005.

So, by using the numbers sourced or calculated above, I’ve made a summary of all identified emissions and sinks for Canadian agriculture, for years 2005 and 2018. See the following table, with all values rounded to the closest Mt of CO2 equivalent.

Table 1: Canadian agricultural GHG emissions including credits and debits for LULUCF, on-farm fuel usage and Canadian biofuel consumption.

2005 2018 2018/2005 % of Cdn total
Mt CO2 equivalent % (2018)
Total Canadian gross emissions 730 729 100 100
LULUCF (sinks), Canadian total -13 -13 100
Canadian total, gross emissions plus LULUCF 717 716 100
Ruminant digestion, CH4 31 24
Manure management, CH4 and N2O 9 8
N2O from soil fertilizing, management 19 25
Other 1 3
Agriculture total, reported to UNFCCC 60 59 98 8.1
Add LULUCF credit -10 -6
Agricultural total with LULUCF added 50 53 106 7.4
Add biofuel credit -1 -6
Add on-farm fossil fuel usage 12 14
Total, biofuel and farm fuel included 61 61 100 8.5

(Note that agricultural values for 2005 in Table 1 have been corrected from the erroneous ones shown in an earlier version of this blog.)

When all the add-ons and credits are included, the pattern is about the same as that reported by Canada to UNFCCC in April 2020. Agriculture represents about 8 percent of Canadian GHG emissions (gross or net) – a percentage that has not changed much since 2005. Increases in emissions are mostly owing to increased use of nitrogen fertilizer and fewer perennial crop hectares. The biggest decline since 2005 involves methane emitted by beef cattle. (Perhaps that’s also why perennial crop hectares declined.)

To my knowledge, the Canadian NIR contains no tables showing these sums, even including the addition of LULUCF agricultural credits from agricultural emissions. However, there is one exception: the Canadian NIR contains a prominent table in the Executive Summary called GHG Emissions Economic by Sector, where it adds on-farm fossil fuel usage to the agricultural total reported to UNFCCC, but with none of the credits included. That table is shown below. This has the effect of increasing Canadian agricultural contribution to 10% of the Canadian total, versus 8.5% if credits are included too.Blog GHG Aug 2020 ES-3

I have no idea why Environment and Climate Change Canada, which prepares the Canadian submissions, did this. It was not required by UNFCCC, and I don’t see it in NIRs from other countries.

How Canadian figures compare to those for other countries.

One way to put the Canadian numbers in perspective is to compare them with those from other countries. I’ve completed the following table using CRF (Common Reporting Framework) data (source here) reported by the United States, the United Kingdom, France, The Netherlands, Sweden and Australia.

I would have loved to include comparisons with Brazil, India and China, as three lesser-developed countries with large agriculture, but the data are not available from this UNFCCC source.

(For those wanting to know specifics, I’ve used the CRF Tables 4, 4A, 4B, 4C and Summary1.As2 for years 2005 and 2018 as the sources of data. These tables are quite consistent in format across countries though there are differences in the manner and extent to which CH4 and N2O emissions from agricultural soils are included in calculating LULUCF balances. Also, because of differences in the extent to which different countries consider grasslands as agriculture, I’ve restricted my accounting to cropland in the CRF tables.)

I found it impossible to find equivalent data for most countries on fuel usage in agriculture or offsets from biofuels/bioenergy so those comparisons are not provided.

Negative LULUCF sums denote net sinks; positive LULUCF values denote net sources.

Table 2: Comparisons from several developed countries of gross and net agricultural GHG emissions.

Country 2005 2018 2018/


Canada Mt CO2 equivalent %
National gross GHG emissions 730 729 100
National LULUCF -13 -13
National emissions plus LULUCF 717 716 100
Agriculture gross emissions (% national) 60 (8.2) 59 (8.1) 104
Agricultural LULUCF -10 -6
Agriculture plus LULUCF (% national) 50 (7.0) 53 (7.4) 106
USA National gross GHG emissions 7390 6680 90
National LULUCF -815 -774
National emissions plus LULUCF 6580 5900 90
Agriculture gross emissions (% national) 576 (7.8) 618 (9.3) 107
Agricultural LULUCF -43 -24
Agriculture plus LULUCF (% national) 533 (8.1) 594 (10.1) 111
UK National gross GHG emissions 688 456 66
National LULUCF 7 10
National emissions plus LULUCF 695 466 67
Agriculture gross emissions (% national) 44 (6.4) 41 (9.0) 93
Agricultural LULUCF 9 7
Agriculture plus LULUCF (% national) 53 (7.6) 48 (10.3) 91
France National gross GHG emissions 555 445 80
National LULUCF -45 -26
National emissions plus LULUCF 510 419 82
Agriculture gross emissions (% national) 77 (13.9) 75 (16.9) 97
Agricultural LULUCF 21 20
Agriculture plus LULUCF (% national) 98 (19.2) 95 (22.7) 97
Netherlands National gross GHG emissions 215 188 87
National LULUCF 6 5
National emissions plus LULUCF 221 193 87
Agriculture gross emissions (% national) 18.4 (8.6) 18.2 (9.7) 99
Agricultural LULUCF 1.7 1.6
Agriculture plus LULUCF (% national) 20.1 (9.1) 19.8 (10.3) 99
Sweden National gross GHG emissions 63 52 83
National LULUCF -34 -42
National emissions plus LULUCF 29 10 34
Agriculture gross emissions (% national) 7.0(11.1) 6.8 (13.1) 97
Agricultural LULUCF 3.9 3.8
Agriculture plus LULUCF (% national) 10.9 (37.6) 10.6 (106) 97
Australia National gross GHG emissions 526 588 112
National LULUCF 91 -21
National  emissions plus LULUCF 617 567 95
Agriculture gross emissions (% national) 80 (15.2) 76 (12.9) 95
Agricultural LULUCF 7 -2
Agriculture plus LULUCF (% national) 87 (14.1) 74 (13.1) 85

Some conclusions:

  • In contrast to Canada, the other selected countries have generally achieved notable reductions in national GHG emissions since 2005, either with or without the inclusion of LULUCF data (true for Australia only with LULUCF included).
  • In general, agriculture represents about 7-15% of total national GHG emission, including or not including LULUCF data. Two exceptions are France, where the agricultural percentages are higher, and Sweden, where national calculations with LULUCF included are dominated by a huge national C sequestration in forests.
  • With the exception of the United Kingdom and Australia, GHG emissions from agriculture have not declined since 2005. This applies whether LULUCF data are included or not. (The UK numbers reflect a significant reduction in numbers of ruminant animals.)
  • As a percent of national GHG emissions, the agricultural portion increased in every country except Australia between 2005 and 2018.
  • In the European countries included in this small survey, agricultural soils are a net source rather than sink for carbon dioxide. This stands in contrast to a stated objectives in some countries – notably France – to increase the national carbon content in soils by 4 per 1000 per year (reference here) as part of GHG reduction strategies.

Further Plans

My next goal is to examine various plans that have been developed by governments, farm groups and others to reduce net emissions from agriculture. I also want to look at the extent to which IPCC calculation procedures for methane, and lack of consideration for the carbon content in agricultural products, affect calculations of agricultural net emission calculations. I expect the effects of both to be substantial.

But those reports will await another blog.


Source of National Inventory Reports (NIR) and Common Reporting Format (CRF) data on Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Sources and Sinks, submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). 2020.

Canada’s Fourth Biennial Report on Climate Change. 2019.

Column updated August 30, 2020.


A Brief Guide to Mennonites and Amish – especially Old Order – in Ontario

St Jacobs Mennonite photo

Photo credit: The Mennonite Story, St. Jacobs, Ontario (

For nearly 48 years, my wife and I have lived in what was historically known as the Paisley Block of Guelph (now Guelph/Eramosa) Township with its Scottish roots. But less than one kilometer away lies Waterloo Region (formerly Waterloo County) with its equally strong German-speaking origins. Those pioneers included a large number of Mennonites.
The many Mennonite farmers and other agricultural folk in Waterloo with whom I’m connected are all fully modern. But less than 12 minutes from home are Old Order Mennonites. And not much further away live Old Order Amish and members of several other Anabaptist (adult baptism) groups.
I’ve realized that after nearly 50 years of living so close, that I know remarkably little about any of them.
So a ‘Covid project’ for me has been to learn more about my neighbours. This column represents my attempt to condense several hundred pages of reading and many conversations into a 20-30 minute summary. It’s written for outsiders like me who would like to know more about the Ontario Mennonites and Amish – who they are and from whence they came – but don’t have time for hours of research. At the end of the column, I’ll provide web links to sites where more detailed information can be found.
An introductory caution: This subject is not simple. There are over 30 different groups of Mennonites and Amish in Ontario and they vary quite substantially, from thoroughly modern to very conservative. The route by which those differences arose is equally complex.
In this column, I am going to focus more on conservative groups, but their story cannot be told without including the others. Despite my best efforts to stick to basics, the column is still more than 8000 words long. To improve readability I’ve divided it into sections, and some readers may wish to skip just to the second last one – Mennonite and Amish Communities in Ontario Today. However, I’d encourage you to read the full story.
A special thank you to Mr. Samuel Steiner, Kitchener, Ontario, who is my source for the majority of the information provided below. More on that later.
1. Mennonite and Amish Origins
2. Mennonites and Amish Immigration to Canada
3. Challenges for Mennonites and Amish caused by Pacifism and Pietism
4. Major Splits among both Mennonites and Amish
5. Russian Mennonites, David Martin Mennonites and World War I
6. Clothing Attire Becomes Distinct
7. More Russian Mennonite Immigration in 1920s, Formation of Markham-Waterloo Mennonites
8. World War II, Russian Mennonite Immigration after World War II , Plymouth Brethren and Orthodox Mennonites
9. Old Colony Mennonites from Mexico, Recent Amish Immigration into Ontario from the United States
10. Creation of Western Ontario Mennonite Conference and Conservative Mennonite Church of Ontario, One-Room Schools, Public Service
11. Mennonite and Amish Communities in Ontario Today
12. Final Comments, Acknowledgements References, Further Information

Mennonite and Amish Origins

First some quick beginnings. The Anabaptist/Mennonite movement was started in Zurich Switzerland in about 1525 by a Reformist Christian minister, Conrad Grebel, who promoted a belief system based in part on simplicity, adult baptism (i.e., ‘anabaptism’) and pacifism. The name Mennonite evolved from ‘Mennists’ or ‘Mennoists’ named after Menno Simons, a former Dutch Roman Catholic priest, who in about 1536 was attracted to the Anabaptist movement. Simon’s initiative in Holland spread eastward into Prussia and Poland and gradually German became the dominant language of these ‘Dutch’ Mennonites.
Grebel’s teachings found favour among German-speaking, Reformation-minded groups in Switzerland – and spread northward into the adjacent Rhine-valley regions of Palatinate-Germany and Alsace (then German speaking too). These people were known as Swiss Brethren (later Swiss Mennonites in North America).
Both groups were persecuted viciously at the beginning, burnings at the stake included; more than a thousand were put to death in Holland for their beliefs prior to 1600 – but the movement grew and, eventually, Mennonites became more widely accepted by public authorities.
In 1693 a group of Mennonites in Alsace, led by Jakob Amman, upset by what they thought to be a relaxation of Mennonite commitments, formed what became known as Amish. Both Mennonites and Amish adhered to principles outlined in the Dordrecht Confession of Faith, written in 1632 – a document that is still basic to the belief system of most conservative Mennonites and Amish.
Persecution in Switzerland and adjacent Germany led many Swiss Mennonites to immigrate to Pennsylvania which William Penn had acquired from the English Crown in 1683. He established it as home for Quakers and those of similar beliefs. Some Mennonites of Dutch origin came to Pennsylvania, but most were from southern Germany and France (though commonly called Swiss Mennonites). The first Amish from Alsace arrived in Pennsylvania in 1714.
Their pacifist belief has triggered difficulties for Mennonites and Amish throughout their entire history. This is why many came to Pennsylvania from Europe in the late 17th century – and also a major reason why many left Pennsylvania a century later. The problem this time involved the refusal of Mennonites/Amish to fight, first, for the British during the Seven Years’ War in the late 1750s (the war when England expelled France from most of North America) and then about two decades later for American Patriots during the US War of Independence. Mennonites/Amish paid special taxes, and provided services and supplies other than soldiers for the respective armies, but that was scarcely enough counter the animosity they faced.
After Pennsylvania introduced the Test Act in 1777 (withdrawal of voting rights, among the measures imposed on pacifist groups), many Mennonites and Amish moved to other states and some Mennonites came to Canada. The attractiveness of cheaper farmland was another reason for emigration.

Mennonite Story St Jacobs

The Mennonite Story. A multi-media interpretive centre in St Jacobs, Ontario., 519-664-3518

Mennonites and Amish Immigration to Canada

The first recorded entry of Mennonites into what is now Ontario was in 1786, to establish a base near ‘The Thirty,’ 30 miles up the Lake Ontario shoreline west of the Niagara River. Settlement spread elsewhere along the Lake Ontario shoreline and also along Lake Erie near the present city of Port Colborne. The most concentrated settlement was near the present town of Vineland. Moyer Mennonite Church (now The First Mennonite Church) in Vineland was established in about 1800 as the first Mennonite church in Canada.
After the American Revolution, in 1784 Joseph Brant of the Six Nations was granted land for six miles on both sides of the Grand River from Lake Erie to the river’s source. He later sold several blocks of this land to non-natives, including three blocks in what’s now the Region of Waterloo.
Block 2 (to become Waterloo Township) was sold by Brant to Richard Beasley in 1796 and he, in turn, sold a few lots to Mennonite immigrants from Pennsylvania. However, there were complications with these sales that were not resolved until 1805. Steady immigration of Mennonites and others of German-speaking origins occurred into Block 2 after 1805, and continued north into Block 3 (mostly the present Township of Woolwich).
(When Waterloo Regional structure was created in 1973, Waterloo Township disappeared and its territory was distributed among the cities of Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge and the Township of Woolwich. The present cities of Kitchener, Waterloo and the Preston and Hespeler portions of Cambridge all started as villages in the original Waterloo Township.)
Mennonite settlement also occurred in Markham Township, north of Toronto, beginning about 1800. Just as in the Vineland area and Waterloo, several of those early Mennonite family names are still prominent in York Region today.
The first Amish arrival in Waterloo was Christian Nafziger in 1822 who came from Germany seeking a new home for his Amish kin then being persecuted in Bavaria.
The name Waterloo did not come until years later; Waterloo Township and, later, Waterloo County, were named following the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 when British forces defeated France’s Napoleon. Before ‘Waterloo’ this area was commonly known as the German Tract.
The first Amish settlers arrived in 1823 and settled in the newly opened Wilmot Township (previously known as the Crown Reserve for the County of Lincoln) to the west of Block 2, and in adjacent parts of what became East Zorra Township in Oxford County. Settlement in this remote area was made easier by opening of the Huron Road, from Guelph to Preston to Goderich, in 1828.
There were actually earlier Amish settlements near Long Point, Ontario and in Vaughn Township north of Toronto, but they died out when the residents returned to the United States after the War of 1812-14.


At least 10,000 people attend the annual Amish School Auction Sale, each July, near Milverton Ontario (raises money for Amish parochial schools)

Challenges for Mennonites and Amish caused by Pacifism and Pietism

The pacifist stance of Mennonites and Amish caused them many problems in Upper Canada in years during and after the War of 1812-14 – especially so for settlements near the Niagara River. Special taxes paid by pacifists and the provision of services (i.e., wagons and horses) for military purposes helped to soothe government and public attitudes somewhat, though not that well.
The nineteenth century was an era of turmoil, change and expansion for both Mennonites and Amish in Ontario. The latter half of the century, in particular, was marked by widespread enthusiasm for pietism, a religious philosophy that focused on personal salvation and forgiveness of sins. This philosophy was in conflict with a basic Mennonite/Amish emphasis on the fundamental importance of communities and living a wholesome life in cooperation with others. There were many splits and creations of new groups. These groups included New Mennonites, Reformed Mennonites, Reforming Mennonites (the two were different), the Mennonite Brethren in Christ, United Brethren in Christ (also different), Evangelical Association and Tunkers (the latter also known as River Brethren or Brethren in Christ, and now known in Canada as the Be in Christ Church of Canada). All were German speaking (at least initially). Add to this Lutherans, German Reformed, and Methodists (the latter not German but a powerful champion of pietism) and the result was continual changes in memberships and shifting fortunes for the various groups. Some flourished for decades before disappearing. Others prospered and continued, though often under new names. More on that below.
In addition to the basic philosophical difference described above, other issues of contention included the use of English during worship services, the introduction of Sunday schools and evening prayer meetings (the objections by traditionalists included event leadership by non-ordained people), and the extent to which members of one Mennonite group could associate with members of another.


Horses and buggies await owners at the Amish School Auction Sale

Major Splits Among both Mennonites and Amish

A major spit occurred in 1889 within the Mennonite Church of Canada when a more conservative faction based in Woolwich Township broke away to form what are now known as Old Order Mennonites. The split was over details of worship and basic beliefs. It was not about farming practices because every farmer was an ‘old order’ farmer at that time. Differences in farming practices were to come later.
A similar division occurred at about the same time among the Amish, though in a less-dramatic manner. Initially Amish communities celebrated Sunday worship in family homes. However, as congregations grew, some saw the need to create meetinghouses, with one being built near Tavistock in 1883 and others soon after at St. Agatha and near Baden. The latter, known as the Steinmann meetinghouse, continues to flourish as Steinmann Mennonite Church. These Amish people became known as Church Amish – and later as Amish Mennonites – and some still later as Mennonites.
Amish Mennonite meetinghouses and congregations were also established near the village of Wellesley and in the village of Poole in Mornington Township, Perth County.
(Wellesley Township was slow to be settled compared to other townships in Waterloo because it was initially designated as ‘Clergy Reserve,’ in the original Canada Company title of 1827 to lands between the German Tract and Lake Huron. Wellesley Township opened officially for settlement in about 1847. However, there were lots of squatters before then).
Other Amish congregations were not comfortable with use of meetinghouses and certain other aspects of the new worship services and opted to continue to hold services in their own homes. These folk were called House Amish and, later, Old Order Amish, and established congregations near Milverton and Millbank in Mornington Township, now part of Perth East Township, Perth County.
Division was not finished for the Amish Mennonites. A sector in the new church congregations in Wellesley and Mornington Townships objected to what they saw as excessive liberalization (apparently two notable issues were the adoption of Sunday school and singing in part harmony – soprano, alto, tenor, bass) and established new congregations and new meetinghouses nearby. Breakaway congregations near Wellesley and Poole affiliated with a US group of Amish called Beachy Amish and the one at Poole is still identified as such today. ‘Pennsylvania Dutch’ German continued to be the language spoken at all Amish services until at least the 1930s. It still is for Old Order Amish.


Peel Old Order Mennonite Meetinghouse, near Wallenstein Ontario (Old Order Mennonite Meetinghouses have no identification signs in front).

Russian Mennonites, David Martin Mennonites and World War I

Another major 19th century event was the first arrival of ‘Russian Mennonites’ in Canada in about 1870. These were the original Dutch and then Prussian (northeastern Germany) Mennonites who had immigrated in the late 1700s to South Russia (now Ukraine) – mainly because of an invitation by Russian ruler, Catherine the Great. But by the 1870s, the Russian welcome was over and Mennonites were facing the same oppression they’d known before for their pacifist beliefs. Mennonite congregations in Ontario helped facilitate the immigration from the Ukraine to Canada and many of the arrivals came to Ontario first. However, they mostly all moved later to southern Manitoba where the countryside was similar to the steppes they were familiar with in the Ukraine. Interestingly, one challenge they had in Ontario was a difference between the Low German the arrivals spoke, and the ‘Pennsylvania Dutch’ (aka, ‘Dietsch’) version of German spoken by Mennonites and Amish in Ontario.
Another significant split occurred, this time among Old-Order Mennonites in 1917, with the separation of a group in the Wallenstein-St. Jacobs area to form a more conservative entity later known officially as the Independent Old Order Mennonite Church, but more commonly as David Martin Mennonites. According to Mennonite historian, Samuel Steiner, one cause for the split was the digging of a three-mile municipal farm drain west of St. Jacobs. Under Ontario’s Drainage Act the construction had to be financed by tax contributions from all farmers considered to benefit from its creation. Some of the Old-Order farmers were supportive, some were not, and the resulting ill-will added to differences of opinion on other issues as well. One other such issue was the use of bicycles that the breakaway group considered a luxury. Of interest, there were two ‘David Martins,’ the father who was a local bishop and his even more conservative son who was a deacon. Eventually the son set the tone for this new religious group. More about the David Martin Mennonites below.
War has always been a difficult time for pacifist religious groups and that was no difference for Mennonites and Amish in Canada. World War I was especially difficult – more so because Mennonites and Amish were not a cohesive group and each tried to communicate with government individually over matters of military services and offsetting financial contributions including taxes. Confusing and different interpretations of government rules added to the turmoil as did the dilemma for young Mennonite and Amish men in deciding whether to register and then seek exemption for farm service, or whether to refuse to register, as conscientious objectors. Add to this strong anti-German sentiments in the community (the city of Berlin Ontario became Kitchener during WW I) and the fact that German was the first language for many Mennonites and all Old Order Amish.
The practice of adult baptism meant that young men were not officially members of the church until their early twenties, and this hampered their ability to claim exemption as formal members of a pacifist Christian church. Finally, some Mennonite groups, notably the Mennonite Brethren in Christ, were not so strongly pacifist and didn’t aggressively discourage enlistment. Mennonite and Amish groups in Ontario ultimately formed the Non-Resistant Relief Organization in early 1918 to coordinate communications with government and relief donations. It was created too late to be of much significance during World War I, but served of some value in World War II, two decades later.
As an interesting aside, Canadian women were granted the right to vote during World War I, but Mennonite and other pacifist-group men lost it at the same time. Fortunately, only one of these decisions was later reversed.


New (2020) Old Order Mennonite Meetinghouse, north of Elmira Ontario

Clothing Attire Becomes Distinct

The initial years of the 20th century were also significant for Mennonite and Amish clothing styles as well. Distinctive clothing attire had not been of major importance in decades before, but became so more as the various groups sought to emphasize the importance of plainness and absence of individual pretense. Also important was a desire for public distinctiveness at the group level. Mennonite and Amish women covering their heads during worship was a long standing practice; uniformity of the prayer veils and bonnets became specified at a time that the larger Canadian female population was dropping bonnets and moving to hats. Other practices such as the non-use of wedding rings, prohibitions on the cutting of women’s hair and, later, the wearing of ‘cape dresses’ now so routinely associated with Mennonite women, began rather informally and optionally sometime in the late 1800s and in decades to follow.
The cape dress has a double layer of fabric over the bodice.  It was adopted as the wearing of full aprons declined.  The Old Order Amish and some Old Order Mennonites still wear aprons and thus no capes.
The dress code for men, notably plain coats, was generally not enforced as rigidly as for women, except for worship and other related congregational events (funerals, weddings, etc.). However, the use of braces versus belts on pants became standard for several groups as was the use of hook-and-eyes (versus buttons) on jackets, and beards on Old Order Amish men. The matter of voluntary or mandatory compliance with these dress codes was the basis for some congregational splits. The wearing – or not wearing – of beards was also a source of conflict among Mennonite groups.


Elmira North Parochial School (for Old Order and Markham-Waterloo Mennonite children)

More Russian Mennonite Immigration in 1920s, Formation of Markham-Waterloo Mennonites

The defeat of German forces in Europe in 1918 and the Russian Revolution that followed immediately caused huge difficulties for Mennonites remaining in Russia/Ukraine. This led to major immigration into Canada – supported by the existing Mennonite groups in Ontario and Western Canada. The Mennonite Central Committee was formed in the US in 1920 (Canadian office came later) and received strong support from most Canadian and US Mennonite groups to help feed the Mennonites in Russia and support the immigration. Though most of the Canadian immigrants went to Western Canada as they had done in the 1870s, this time many also settled in Ontario – especially in Essex County, the Port Rowan area, near Vineland and Beamsville, and in/near Waterloo County. A Vineland Mennonite, Peter Wall, bought several hundred acres of land from Depression-stressed grain and livestock farmers near Virgil ON in 1934, and made it available to fifty Russian Mennonite families. Resulting farms were too small to support more traditional crop/livestock farming so they turned to horticultural production, and helped transform this area into what is now one of Canada’s prime fruit-growing areas.
The Great Depression forced many Mennonite farmers, especially in Western Canada, off the land and into towns and cities, leaving the Mennonite community more urbanized than it had been before.
The Russian Mennonites came with their own churches and two of these, the United Mennonites and Mennonite Brethren, established congregations in Ontario and the West, with services in Low German. These congregations were generally more liberal than many existing “Swiss” Mennonite communities in Ontario at the time, reflecting the more liberal culture they brought with them from the Ukraine. They were more like the mainstream Mennonite Church of Ontario and unlike Old Order groups.
Another group arose in 1939 with the creation of the Markham-Waterloo Mennonites. It was the outcome of a decision by Old Order Mennonites near Markham a few years earlier to allow the use of telephones and black cars (initially with obligate black bumpers). ‘Markhamer Mennonites’ or ‘black car Mennonites,’ as they are sometimes called, are very similar today in religious philosophy, and in the use of technologies for farming and living, to Old Order Mennonites – except for the cars and size of agricultural equipment.
The two commonly share rural parochial schools (more on the schools later) and have shared churches as well. For years when you drove past a large Mennonite church on Church Street in Elmira Ontario on Sunday morning, you would see a large number of horses and buggies hitched outside the building one week and black cars the next (services only every second Sunday – and sometimes less frequently – being common for many conservative Mennonite and Amish groups). This ended in 2020 when the Old Order Mennonites built their own, new church north of town.
The Markhamer Mennonite community gradually disappeared from the Markham area in the 1960s and 1970s as members switched memberships to more modern churches. Markham-Waterloo Mennonite congregations are now found mostly in Waterloo Region and Wellington and Perth Counties.


Ladies watching quilts being sold. Ladies in back row are Amish and unmarried (plain dresses, aprons, black bonnets). Three rows ahead is a married Amish lady (white bonnet, no pattern in dress). Ladies with patterned dresses are Mennonite. Note the two young Amish girls in distance in the upper right (aprons are full length).

World War II, Russian Mennonite Immigration after World War II, Plymouth Brethren and Orthodox Mennonites

World War II caused the same turmoil as did WW I among Mennonites, Amish and other pacifist groups – difficulties accentuated by weak coordination among the various pacifist groups, a generally non-sympathetic public and national government especially for German-speaking people, inconsistent court and governmental decisions, and confusion about the membership status of unbaptized young men. Many young Mennonites and Amish attended work camps, an alternative to military service, in Northern Ontario and, later, British Columbia.
The end of World War II was especially difficult for the 100,000 Mennonites still living in Russia/Ukraine, 90% of whom were soon driven out by Stalin. The majority of them were banished to unpleasant fates in Eastern Russia/Siberia but about a third escaped to Germany. Their fate in Germany was still difficult with Soviet leader Stalin wanting them sent home (and hence likely to Siberia) and the Allies often treating them as Nazi sympathizers and not welcoming them as immigrants. About 8500 eventually ended up in Canada, thanks strongly to efforts of the Mennonite Central Committee. About 1500 came to Ontario and the rest to Western Canada. Canadian Mennonite congregations had difficulties dealing with previously, largely unknown issues like unwed mothers who had been raped by enemy soldiers, and husbands missing after forced service in Soviet or German armies. Denial of membership or communion sometimes occurred. This is a complex and difficult saga but I’ll provide no more here. For those interested, check the references at the column’s end.
Wellesley Township in Waterloo Region has been the centre of several divisions among Mennonites. One major incident occurred around 1934 when a group known as Plymouth Brethren (started a few years earlier in Ireland and England) staged an extended, major revival campaign at Hawkesville. This caused many former Mennonites to leave their traditional churches and join the new gospel mission. About one thousand people observed a baptism by immersion one day in the nearby Conestogo River. The Hawkesville Bible Chapel existed until 1967 or 1968 when its members joined a split-off group from the Elmira Mennonite Church to form the larger Wallenstein Bible Chapel about 5 km further north.
Also unusual was the creation of the officially named Orthodox Mennonite Church of Wellesley Township. It was created in 1956 by Elam S. Martin, initially a David Martin minister who left that group after being excommunicated twice. He took many David Martin members with him and starting his own church. The new group was commonly known as Elam S. Martin Mennonites. Eighteen years later a split occurred within this group, with one of the issues being obligate beards for men. The pro-beard group led by Elam S. Martin left Wellesley and establishing a new Orthodox Mennonite community near Gorrie Ontario in Huron County. It is probably now the most conservative of the Mennonite groups in Ontario. The remaining group split again soon afterward, with many members rejoining the David Martins and the rest remaining as Wellesley Orthodox Mennonites.
Their meetinghouse near Hawkesville burned in August 2019; a local newspaper article at the time said it had not been used regularly for 30 years. The cemetery still exists though I don’t know whether it has been used for recent burials. It is maintained by other Old Order Mennonites who live nearby.

A nearby small school, initially established by Wellesley Orthodox Mennonites in about 1965, was then used by Old Order Mennonites after about 1974, before being closed as a school in 2018. It now serves as a supply depot for Old Order Mennonite schools across Ontario. It doesn’t appear that the Wellesley Orthodox Mennonites still exist as a functioning church, but some organizational structure may still survive.
As an interesting aside: Old Order Mennonites and Amish use their mother’s maiden name as their second name. For example, ‘Terry M. Daynard’ would mean my mother’s last name began with ‘M’ (perhaps ‘Martin’). But those born as Orthodox Mennonites, commonly have the initials ‘EM’ as their second name – EM coming from ‘Elam Martin.’ I’m told you can see this on rural mail boxes near Gorrie though I have yet to spot one myself.


Aggressive bidding for farm equipment at an Amish School Auction Sale near Milverton Ontario

Old Colony Mennonites from Mexico, Recent Amish Immigration into Ontario from the United States

The post-World War II era saw the arrival of two other groups of Mennonites and Amish into Ontario and Western Canada. One is sometimes called Low German-Speaking Mennonites – with many of them being members of a religious branch called Old Colony Mennonites – who once lived in Manitoba following an earlier immigration from Russia/Ukraine, but then left Canada for northern Mexico and other Latin American locations in the 1920s. (As an aside, they acquired the name, ‘Old Colony,’ more than a century earlier when they were the first of two similar but distinct Mennonite groups to settle in the Ukraine.) Their relocation to Mexico was prompted in part by a Manitoba Government decision that all schools had to operate now in English, not German.
But conditions after World War II in Mexico caused many of them to return to Canada beginning in the early 1950s. Most returned to Western Canada but about 3000 came to Ontario with the biggest settlement being around Tillsonburg and later Aylmer. There were also new settlements in Wellesley Township and in Perth, Wellington, Kent and Essex Counties. Some formed their own Old Colony churches and others joining existing Mennonite and non-Mennonite-though-German-based congregations.
Low German Mennonites from Mexico continue to immigrate into Ontario/Canada from Mexico including many now coming into townships in/near Waterloo Region where they are often employed by other Mennonites, particularly David Martin Mennonites. (Because they can drive and own cars, Old Colony employees often serve as chauffeurs for David Martins.) Language is an obstacle with the arrivals speaking Spanish and Low German and the operating languages in the Waterloo area being Pennsylvania Dutch (Deitsch) and English.
The years 1953 to 1970 also saw the establishment of 10 new Amish communities across Southern Ontario all of them immigrants from the US. This wave of immigration was triggered by continuing military conscription in the US (though not in Canada), the Vietnam War, and the introduction of some social insurance programs that Old Order groups in the US opposed. Of course, when Canada introduced similar programs during the 1960s and 1970s – like use of Social Insurance Numbers (SIN) and the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) – and the US draft ended – the incentive to come to Canada disappeared and the immigration stopped. (Old Order Mennonites and Amish in Canada eventually secured exemptions from CPP participation and use of SIN for anything other than income tax filing, but the process took many years of petitions to the Government of Canada.)  New Old Order Amish settlements arose near Aylmer, Norwich, Lakeside (St. Marys), Tavistock, Gorrie, Wallacetown, Mount Elgin, Belleville, Teeswater and Lucknow. Not all of these survived but most are still there today. This represented a huge expansion from the earlier Old Order Amish base that was mostly in Mornington Township and the western edge of Wellesley Township.
Old Order Amish, unlike most of the other Mennonite and Amish groups, have no formal structure connecting different congregations. This means limited communication among the different groups in Ontario and, as a result, beliefs and accepted living practices differ significantly. The connections are often stronger with US Amish communities from where they originated. They are also strong where daughter congregations have been created in Canada, triggered by both population growth (large families) and the limited availability of additional farmland in existing areas. Of interest, Amish now live only in the United States and Canada, with the largest number residing in Ohio, but with substantial numbers also in Indiana and Pennsylvania. Mennonites, by contrast, are found in many countries.


Current building for Maple View Mennonite Church. Congregation established before 1900 by Amish Mennonites, near Wellesley Ontario

Creation of Western Ontario Mennonite Conference and Conservative Mennonite Church of Ontario, One-Room Schools, Public Service

The post-World War II years saw a continuation of divisions among Mennonite and Amish Mennonite congregations and the creation of new ones, often located not far away. There were differences of opinion on issues such as dress code, the cutting (or not) of women’s hair, wearing of wedding rings and jewelry, presence or absence of beards, use or not of alcohol, tobacco, televisions (generally banned) and radios (often permitted), families sitting together at church (versus men and women separated), use of musical instruments in churches, the ability to sing in four-part harmony versus in unison (some considered four-part harmony to be too pretentious), the ability to vote in public elections, acceptance of government benefits, and personality conflicts. There were breakaways to form new congregations that were either more conservativism or more liberal. Some new multi-congregational alliances or ‘conferences’ were created but many congregations remained independent.
In 1963, more liberal Amish Mennonite churches renamed their conference, the Western Ontario Mennonite Conference, eliminating the word, Amish. However, conservative ‘Beachy’ Amish Mennonites retained it, and there were breakaways from Beachy to form other conservative groups.
A larger split occurred in 1960 when a number of Ontario congregations, led by six ordained men in Wilmot Township, left the mainstream Mennonite Church of Ontario to form the Conservative Mennonite Church of Ontario. It established several new congregations quite quickly in Waterloo (starting with one in Heidelberg), and in Huron County (Zurich and Brussels).
The decision to close all one-room elementary schools in Ontario in 1965 led to major disruption. Prior to then, Old Order children had attended small (generally one-room) public schools along with all other rural Ontario children. A classmate of mine, raised in what’s now the township of North Perth, tells of attending a one-room elementary school in the 1950s with 30-40 other children, more than half of whom were Amish, apparently without notable complications.

But Old Order leaders, Amish and Mennonite, rejected new centralized larger schools for several reasons including bus-riding, exposure to ‘dangerous’ new influences (eg., evolution) and technologies (television), physical education classes and more. As a result, the Government of Ontario agreed to let these groups establish their own one-room schools, with local school boards just as had existed before. This was a very traumatic period for Old Order groups as it meant a need for an across-congregational organization beyond what most had known before, plus the financing of schools and training of teachers. Almost none of the Old Order trustees or early teachers had ever advanced in school beyond age 14, the age that Ontarians who were farm children were permitted to quit school at the time, and the age at which almost every Old Order Mennonite and Amish child did. (The age to which Ontario children must attend school has since risen to 16, but remains 14 for these parochial schools.)
In Midwestern Ontario, a Waterloo-Wellington-Perth Parochial School district association was created with 61 schools – 36 owned/operated by Old Order Mennonites, 11 by Old Order Amish, eight by Markham-Waterloo Mennonites and six by Orthodox Mennonites. Many of the school buildings were generally built new as the former township school boards opposed the creation of the new parochial schools and refused to sell them the former one-room schools, even though they were no longer needed. (Most were sold for conversion to homes.) However Mennonite/Amish parochial schools were also built from converted farm houses houses and one was made from a former chicken house.
The number of Old Order schools has increased substantially since 1965. It’s my understanding that cooperation is minimal between Old Order Amish and the conservative Mennonite groups (Old Order, Markham-Waterloo and Orthodox, who do operate joint schools). Intriguingly, David Martin Mennonite children, though also Old Order in many ways, go to regular public schools.
Schooling is in English even though children often speak Pennsylvania Dutch at home. There have been some intriguing initiatives. For many years the Waterloo Region District School Board owned and operated the small Three-Bridges public school near St. Jacobs, for Mennonite children of all types (but especially Old Order), apparently as a failed early attempt to keep Old Order children still in the provincial public school system after 1965. It was closed a few years ago because of declining attendance. However, it has recently been purchased by Old Colony Mennonites and is now used to educate their children. I don’t know the current language(s) of instruction but it could be Spanish and/or Low German – as well as English.
There is so much more that could be written as background information on who the Mennonites and Amish are, and how they got to who they are today. Mennonites – including those originating from the ‘church’ Amish Mennonites – are known for well-known their charity and kindness to others, both locally and internationally. The Mennonite Central Committee, now with Canadian headquarters in Winnipeg but with a strong Ontario presence, celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2020. The New Hamburg Mennonite Relief Sale has raised substantial funds from the auction sale of quilts for more than 50 years. Deserving of special praise is the Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS), founded in 1952 and supported by both Old-Order and modern Mennonites. As but one example of its activities, MDS had support teams on the ground immediately afterwards to help clean up the debris left by a tornado at Goderich, Ontario in August 2011. The Waterloo-based charity, MEDA (Mennonite Economic Development Associates) has near-70-year history of service to developing countries. There are many other related programs.
Mennonites/Amish in Ontario are generally rural with roots in farming but with congregations in cities as well (examples, Greater Toronto Area, St. Catharines, London, Hamilton, and Ottawa, along with a strong urban presence in Waterloo Region). There is also a major urban presence in Western Canada. Mennonites have a long history of mission work in inner Toronto.
Mennonites established a residential and teaching college, Conrad Grebel University College, soon after the founding of the University of Waterloo in 1957. Among other functions, Conrad Grebel does a great job in documenting Mennonite and Amish history. Conrad Grebel-based materials on the web are the source of much of what’s written in this column.


Cedar Grove Amish Mennonite Church, about 1 km from Maple View Mennonite Church. Cedar Grove began as a breakaway congregation by more conservative families from Maple View

Mennonite and Amish Communities in Ontario Today

The remainder of this article involves a listing and brief description of the various Mennonite and Amish groups and congregations as they existed across Ontario in 2020 – or as close to 2020 as I can find relevant information. The web map posted here prepared by Samuel Steiner of Conrad Grebel University College, University of Waterloo (retired), shows the location of more than 260 Mennonite (including Amish Mennonite) churches (or ‘meetinghouses,’ the term some prefer) and about 40 Old Order Amish ‘districts.’ Old Order Amish do not have churches/meetinghouses and refer to their various congregations as districts.
In a detailed history of Mennonites and Amish, entitled, In Search of Promised Lands, Samuel Steiner identifies 33 different Mennonite/Amish groups in Ontario and divides them into four general categories. The four are Old-Order (OO), Separatist Mennonites (SM), Evangelical Mennonites (EM) and Assimilated Mennonites (AM). OO are mostly ‘horse and buggy’ Mennonites and Amish, although many use some farming, business and home technologies that would be labelled by most people as modern, and Markham-Waterloo Mennonites drive black cars. SM includes groups who accept some evangelistic philosophy and government programs but also stick with many practices that make them visible, like prayer veils and plain dress. EM means groups that are more evangelical and with limited or no compliance with old-order practices. AM means groups that use the same living and farming practices as the rest of modern society.
I’ve listed most of the 33 groups in this table, the contents of which came from Steiner’s book.

2020-06-28 11_17_19-Document3 - Word

The Mennonite Church Eastern Canada (MCEC) is the result of a 1988 merger of three groups with distinctly different origins: the Mennonite Conference of Ontario and Quebec (mainly Pennsylvania/Swiss Mennonite origins), the United Mennonite Church of Ontario (Russian/Ukrainian Mennonites), and the Western Ontario Mennonite Conference (Amish Mennonites). MCEC is a member of Mennonite Church Canada.
Mention should also be made of the Midwest Mennonite Fellowship, an affiliation created in 1977 from previously unaffiliated and relatively conservative congregations from Ontario to Iowa. About 50% of its current membership is in Canada (10 churches in Ontario and one in Alberta). This is a separate entity from the Conservative Mennonite Church of Ontario.
The diversity of groups is large, indeed far more than I expected when I started this project. I’ll focus below on the Old Order groups that are the most unique and also very diverse.
In general, most Old Order groups use horses and buggies for personal transport, with the women wearing bonnets and distinctive dresses, and the men wearing braces instead of belts for trouser suspension. But there are also notable differences and the rules on what’s allowed for the various groups change over time. My information may not all be current.
The process for change generally involves a combination of special congregational meetings and decisions (unilateral or based on consensus) by bishops and ministers.
Old-Order Mennonites and Markham-Waterloo Mennonites now use tractors for farming, telephones – including cell phones (at least in practice, though not clear if this is approved by the church) but not ‘smart phones’ – and various types of electrical equipment and appliances powered by line electricity. They don’t own computers but can hire computer services done by others. There are some restrictions on tractor usage, e.g., not over a certain speed or size (100 horsepower, I’m told), and not used to pull loaded wagons on municipal roads to transport farm produce (eg., hay) from one farm to another. At one time, they could not use tractors with cabs but I’m told this changed when the purchase of new farm-scale cab-less tractors proved too difficult. They are obliged to remove windows from the tractor cabs. Old Order Mennonites can use covered buggies with rubber-tired wheels (including pneumatic), unlike some other old order groups.
The population of Old Order Mennonites, following an initial 1967 expansion to farmland around Mount Forest, has ballooned since 1990 with new congregations/churches at Chesley, Teeswater, Kinloss, Dunnville, Lindsay, Matheson and Massey Ontario.
Thanks to an overall organizational structure for Ontario, the Old Order Mennonite Church, practices are similar at all places.
Old-Order and Markham-Waterloo Mennonites cooperate a great deal, sharing schools, and meetingplaces for church services. (The latter was more common in the past; I’m told that this now occurs only at a meetingplace near Floradale, Ontario.)
Orthodox Mennonites are more restrictive – no phones, line electricity, rubber-tired buggies or farm tractors, as I understand it.
David Martin Mennonites are a combination of very conservative and very modern. They don’t own or use farm tractors and don’t use electricity provided by roadside electrical lines. They do use telephones including cell phones and, I understand, some modern home appliances. There are strict limitations on usage of electricity in the houses, but much less so in the farm shops. They don’t allow televisions but do use computers, including Internet, for business purposes. Indeed, they have their own Internet server company. Their rules for buggies are apparently about the same as for Old Order Mennonites though David Martin buggies and wagons are often larger. David Martins use use only steel-rimmed buggy wheels (unlike Old Order Mennonites, at least in/near Waterloo Region, who use rubber-lined wheels; that’s how you can tell the two apart on the road, I’m told).
Most Mennonites and Amish are very entrepreneurial. You can tell that from the many end-of-farm-lane-signs advertizing many items for sale including maple syrup, garden produce, prepared foods, furniture, quilts and other home-made/home-grown products. One suspects that this represents a substantial portion of family cash income because the farms are generally not large. Sunday sales, of course, are forbidden.
David Martin Mennonites often go beyond this by adding on-farm manufacturing capabilities such as complex metal machining and injection molding for plastics. To do so, they use sophisticated computer software, complex electrical tools and other electronic equipment as long as it does not use line electricity. Farms often have very large electric generators powered by diesel fuel that produce 120/240 volt electricity – and up to or above 600-volt, three-phase electricity when needed for manufacturing purposes.
Although David Martins can’t own tractors, they are allowed to own ‘skid-steers’ which are used to load and unload semi-trailer trucks bringing raw materials in and finished products out. Several David Martin Mennonites are deeply involved in very sophisticated and large-scale plastic and metal manufacturing. One of them has a laser capable of slicing 1-inch steel. A plastic injection machine, weighing135 ton and capable of applying a clamping force of about 2500 tons, was installed in a barn near Wallenstein. Until dismantled after the contract job was done, it was one of the largest in Canada. David Martin Mennonites are a major supplier for many of the plastic items sold by the chain, Home Hardware, from its corporate base in St. Jacobs.
It’s fascinating to drive past David Martin farms in parts of Wellesley Township with no sign of public electrical service at the municipal road, with farm fields worked by horses and personal transportation provided by horses and buggies (bicycle usage is banned), but also with substantial on-farm shop buildings equipped for highly sophisticate industrial production. Skid-steers have been seen pulling farm equipment in fields, but I am not sure how successfully.
Although David Martin Mennonites cannot own/operate regular farm tractors themselves, they can hire other farmers to do this. I’m told that providing such service represents a significant source of income for a few farmer neighbours of David Martins in Grey County.
David Martin Mennonites are known as shrewd business people and hard bargainers. They are also very private, not inclined for social interaction or discussion with other Mennonite and Amish groups except on matters of business. David Martins are forbidden from talking to outsiders about their religion or attending religious events not led by their own clergy. David Martins (sometimes known locally by the more colloquial “The Daves”) are one of the most strict in use of excommunication and shunning to ostracize members who violate rules. David Martin members can be banned, apparently, if they attend a service led by anyone except a David Martin minister. Their members are forbidden to talk to others about their religious beliefs. But they can be quite ‘liberal’ in other ways, including tolerance for smoking (men only) and use of alcohol, and in acceptance of the once more widely practiced Mennonite tradition of ‘bundling’ during courtship. (Young couples share closed bedrooms and beds during evening visits, but supposedly remain fully clothed throughout.)
Unlike the other Old Order groups, David Martin Mennonites apply for and accept government support when available for funding farming programs.

The Reformed Mennonite Church with congregations near Amulree (near Shakespeare) and Stevensville (near Fort Erie), plus about six-to-eight other locations in the United States was once much larger in number of congregations. Reformed Mennonites drive cars and farm with modern methods but remain quite distant from other Mennonite groups socially and in sharing in religious events (weddings, funerals, listening to sermons by other ministers, etc.). Reformed Mennonite children attend regular public schools and apparently are allowed lots of flexibility in social activities until they are baptized and join the church at about age 20 – sometimes much later. Thereafter, the penalties for those who don’t follow rules, including imposition of well-enforced excommunication and shunning, are substantial. This, apparently, is one reason why many children don’t bother joining the church when they become adults and why the number of Reformed Mennonites is in decline.
Old Order Amish are somewhat more complex in that there is no coordinating structure across Ontario and each congregation/district operates independently. Distinct difference exist among the six core groups (and their daughter districts) that arrived in Ontario at different times and from different places in Europe or the US. I am indebted to Barb Draper, Fred Lichti and the Mennonite Historical Society of Ontario (June 2017 newsletter, referenced below) for the following guide to 45 Old Order Amish districts in Ontario.

Old Order Amish groups in Ontario

Although all Old Order Amish are horse and buggy people, the rules vary among groups. One source states the Swartzentruber Amish near Owen Sound and Iron Bridge ON are likely the most conservative (no indoor plumbing, flower gardens, gas lanterns or orange-triangle slow-moving-vehicle signs on buggies) – while another district near Lakeside/St. Marys is the most liberal – not that any of the rest of us might notice much difference.
For the oldest and largest group located near Milverton and Millbank (commonly called Milverton Amish), buggies with rubber tires and bicycles are not allowed (though bicycle-like scooters are) and telephones are permitted but only if located in separate, small telephone houses located away from the house. Ownership of cars and tractors is not allowed although Milverton Amish can hire cars for transport if driven by others. The same applies for some types of tractor farm work done by others.
A few years ago, my wife and I attended a tour of Mornington Township Amish farms organized by a Perth County historical group, visiting one farm where the family owned a loader bucket for a front-end tractor loader. It was used for moving/loading barnyard manure. The farmer could not own the tractor itself but could hire his non-Amish neighbour with a tractor to use his loader bucket for cleaning out his barn. We also visited an Amish farmer with a large shop where he installed new fiberglass buggy wheels with steel rims – also adding buggy springs and turn-signal indicator lights powered by a 12-volt battery. The Amish proprietor told us he sometimes had difficulties in selling the new buggies and buggy upgrades. “These people are a bit slow to accept new technologies,” was his lament. I kidded him at the time about an option for adding GPS but realized that horse-driven vehicles already have a form of auto-steer.
Access to public electrical service is forbidden but not the use of diesel-engine-powered generators. I’m informed by electricians who provide installation services in that area that diesel engines and generators power Amish shop equipment using systems of pulleys, shafts and belts and 12-Volt electrical services. The use of 120/240-Volt systems is forbidden. Batteries coupled to inverters provide electricity when diesel engines are not running. One Amish workshop near Milverton has solar cells on his shop roof to produce electricity, coupled with batteries for electricity storage.
The powering of milk coolers has been a perpetual challenge for Old Order Amish farms for many decades. I’m told of one farm where the compressor motor on the bulk-tank milk cooler is belt-driven by a small diesel engine and the tank agitator by a 12V electric motor.
I’ve recently learned that the combination of diesel engines powering large oil-hydraulic pumps, plus long hydraulic lines and the use of hydraulic motors to run various pieces of barn and shop equipment, has become popular among Old Order Amish near Milverton/Millbank. Apparently, this system has been long-used by some Amish communities in the United States. The extent to which use of home-generated electricity is allowed by Old Order Amish is very limited compared to what applies for David Martin Mennonites.
Old Order Amish men wear beards, though not mustaches – similar for Orthodox Mennonites – but David Martins and Old Order Mennonites are generally beardless. The style of ladies’ bonnets and dress material for cape dresses is distinct for each group – patterned fabric allowed for Old Order Mennonites, plain only for Old Order Amish, and brown only for Orthodox Mennonites. David Martin ladies often wear purple and dark blue. The colour of the bonnet also depends on whether the lady is married.
Alcohol and tobacco use are banned by many groups (though, interestingly, that was not the case 100-150 years ago).

Shunning is practiced fairly vigorously within Old Order Amish communities. ‘Silencing’ is also used by Old Order Amish and Mennonites which meant that ministers weren’t allowed to speak during church services until they have corrected their ‘messages.’

Some background is also merited on the picking of clergy. In traditional Swiss Mennonite and Amish congregations (though generally not Russian Mennonite) ministers are chosen by lot. Each of the eligible men (but not women) in the congregation is given a hymn book at a special service with one of the books containing a slip of paper informing the holder that he is the chosen one. That person is then expected to lead future services of worship and provide an exemplary model of proper living – all without any training or financial compensation. I’ve read that newly chosen ministers and their families have sometimes had to cease usage of some modern conveniences in their homes and on farms to ensure that they are fully in compliance with church rules. (The rules are often not that clearly defined.)
In some conservative groups, there is usually a nomination process where the “voice of the congregation is sought”.  Individuals who are nominated are then interviewed and have the option to withdraw (perhaps by saying they do not hear God’s call at this time) but it is rare.
The bishop, who normally oversees several congregations, might also be chosen by lot from among ministers, or by ministerial collective decision, depending on the group. Churches also usually have deacons to deal with matters like building maintenance, finances and related issues. Deacons also deal with alms and supporting widows/sick/elderly.
With more modern groups, ministers are now paid positions and are selected by standard nomination and interview procedures, the same as other protestant churches. The Mennonite Church Eastern Canada eliminated the title of bishop more than 60 years ago, with those functions now being done by others in the church administration.
The selection of ministers and bishops by lot still applies for most, if not all, Old Order groups.


An entrepreneurial Old Order Mennonite Farm near St. Clements, Ontario. Livestock production, floral greenhouses, furniture manufacture in building to right

Final Comments, Acknowledgments, References and Further Information

As stated at the beginning, my overview has been far from exhaustive. It’s intended for those wanting to read more than a newspaper article, but not the several hours needed to digest material much more complete. My article is provided for people like me with little prior knowledge of Mennonites and Amish in Ontario.
I express deep appreciation to several people whose help was essential to this project – Samuel Steiner of Kitchener for providing most of the historical material which I’ve condensed into the article; Gerry Horst, Woolwich Township and manager of the Mennonite Story, St. Jacobs for all of his insight and guidance, and for answering my dozens of questions; Christine Kuepfer, Millbank, who did the same for my many questions about Amish – and to them plus Richard Reesor and Andrew Reesor-McDowell of York Region, and Margaret and Bob Hunsberger of the City of Waterloo and Woolwich Township for carefully reviewing drafts of this article. Thanks also to Calvin Schmidt of  Perth East for providing insight on Reformed and David Martin Mennonites. Notwithstanding their input, all remaining errors or oversights in the article are solely my responsibility.
Although a vast diversity exists among Mennonite/Amish groups in style of living and employment/farming practices, they have several distinct features in common. Two, of course, are the practices of adult baptism and pacifism in a Christian context. To this, I would add modesty and the aversion of Mennonites and Amish to the drawing of personal attention to themselves. The term, ‘a bragging Mennonite’ would be a definite oxymoron. Highly significant, in my view, is their strong commitment to the wellbeing of their communities – both local and global. Their commitments to charitable endeavours including the Mennonite Central Committee, Mennonite Disaster Service, and Mennonite Economic Development Associates are prime examples of this ethic.
I am lucky to have them as neighbours.
Fortunately, thanks to the efforts of the Conrad Grebel University College at the University of Waterloo, and others with related expertise, there is a good amount of published material available, in both print and on-line. Here are some good ones, in my opinion:
In Search of Promised Lands, by Samuel J. Steiner, 2015. Herald Press, Kitchener. This 594-page historical review (plus nearly 300 pages of additional notes and bibliography) extends from the year 1536 until about 2014 and is very complete. It has a primary focus on Ontario but also has lots of information on Mennonites and Amish in Europe, the United States and Western Canada. It’s available on line from Amazon Kindle. Mr. Steiner is a retired librarian and archivist at Conrad Grebel University College, University of Waterloo.
This highly useful Google web map, produced by Samuel Steiner, shows all Mennonite and Amish churches and districts in Ontario.
The Plain People, A glimpse at life among the Old Order Mennonites of Ontario, by John Peters, 2003. Pandora Press, Kitchener – a short, highly readable, overview primarily about Old Order Mennonites.

Old Order Mennonites of Ontario: gelassenheit, discipleship, brotherhood, by Donald Martin, 2003.Pandora Press, Kitchener.
The Mennonite Story. A multi-media interpretive centre in St Jacobs, Ontario., 519-664-3518.
Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia on Line ( This service, originated in part by Conrad Grebel University College, is a great source of information.
Ontario Mennonite History. The newsletter for the Mennonite Historical Society of Ontario ( Newsletters is published every six months (variable schedule in the past) with many articles on Mennonite and Amish history. Some favourite articles (for me) are:
• Old Order Amish, a diverse group. By Barb Draper, June 2017
• Old Order daughter communities not sustainable before 1960s. By Barb Draper, June 2016
• The Leamington Mennonite story. By Walt Koop, October 2015
• The role of shoebox historians (Markham Mennonites). By George Reesor. June 2014
• The changing culture of Old Colony Mennonites. By Kerry Fast. October 2012
• My relatives: ultra conservative Mennonites. (David Martin Mennonites). By Charlotte Martin. May 1998.

How Does the World Feed 10 Billion People by 2050 While Reducing Agricultural GHG Emissions by Two-Thirds? A Critique of World Resource Institute Recommendations

2020-04-15 12_11_16-Window

As we approach mid-2020, the world is focused almost exclusively on the COVID-19 pandemic, and rightfully so. Eventually global challenges that were dominant only weeks ago will return to prominence – and that includes climate change and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Agriculture and food production are important sources of GHG emissions.  The task of substantially reducing GHG net emissions in agriculture while simultaneously increasing world food supply will be especially difficult.

Some agricultural groups are using the present COVID-induced hiatus – and the paucity of meetings, conferences and associated travel – to consider strategies for meeting the GHG/food-supply challenge. For those who doing so, a 2019 report called Creating a Sustainable Food Future published in 2019 by the World Resources Institute (WRI) is a highly valuable resource.

At 556 pages, the report is very long, something that precluded my own reading of it until COVID-seclusion provided the needed time. I have not read it all, but I’ve read most. It’s a comprehensive, well-written and – for the most part in my view – credible analysis and presentation of a strategy for feeding nearly 10 billion people in 2050. That’s an increase of 56% in global food calories needed above the WRI-chosen base year of 2010. The report also includes a strategy for a two-thirds reduction by 2050 in GHG emissions associated with agriculture – to meet a target that they define as 4 Gt/year of CO2 equivalent in net emissions.

The report has a three-page executive summary and a 40-page overview that provides an overview for readers (i.e., almost everyone) not wanting to read it all. I see little value in my repeating that summary in any detail here. It’s easily accessible by clicking this link. But I will note that WRI strategy consists of five parts (or “courses” as the authors refer to them); they are:

  1. Reduce Growth in Demand for Food and Other Agricultural Products, including less wastage/loss, fewer livestock, no biofuels and fewer human births;
  2. Increase Food Production without Expanding Agricultural Land, including improved livestock, crop and land productivity, and water-use efficiency;
  3. Protect and Restore Natural Ecosystems and Limit Agricultural Land-Shifting, including different usages for marginal agricultural land;
  4. Increase Fish Supply, including both wild fisheries and fish farms; and
  5. Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Agricultural Production, including less methane and nitrous oxide from ruminants, manure, fertilizer application and rice farms; use of non-fossil-fuel energy and consideration of soil C sequestrations.

The authors conclude that meeting a 4Gt CO2 equivalent target for net GHG emissions will be more difficult than that of producing more food. That makes sense to me.

If you or your organization are considering options/strategies for increasing food production while reducing GHG emissions, the WRI report is one good place to start.

At the same time, there are some notable weaknesses in Creating a Sustainable Food Future, at least in my opinion, and readers/planners should be aware of them. Since I’ve not seen these discussed elsewhere, I’ll do so below.

  1. WRI projections are essentially all based on the output of a multi-component model called the “GlobAgri-WRR” model. A brief overview of the model is provided in an appendix, and reference is made to various model assumptions throughout the text. However, many of the calculations remain obscure and the sensitivity of model output to these assumptions is largely undefined. The authors present one table comparing their projections of future agricultural land-use needs to those of other investigators using other models (Table 10-1). Differences of several hundred million hectares exist among these models in calculated land requirement for global food production. This does not mean the WRI model projections are meaningless. It just means interpret with caution.
  2. The authors generally provide no indication of their relative confidence in their various projections and analysis of options. I prefer the approach used in most IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) documents where relative confidence in most statements/conclusions is stated. Even better would be statistical confidence ranges for various projections though I realize that this is virtually impossible with the modelling approach used.
  3. The authors assume that agri-food import/export balances will remain unchanged on a percent basis until the year 2050. And with rare exceptions, they have avoided economic considerations in their analyses. Indeed, the authors argue that economic input would weaken their analysis and projections. I find this curious in that economics is generally about how finite resources are allocated among competing demands. Given that the increase in food demand will be largely concentrated in some regions/continents/countries (eg. Sub-Saharan Africa) much more than others (eg., Europe), it’s puzzling that corresponding shifts in import/export patterns are largely rejected in the modelling approach.
  4. The authors also avoid discussion of the effects of their recommendations on the economic and social viability of farm families and associated rural communities – especially in developed countries. It seems deficient to recommend, for example, that the United States abandon production of fuel ethanol from corn (more discussion below) without considering the effect on the rural economy of the US Midwest. The report does discuss effects of some of their recommendations on rural communities in parts of the developing world.
  5. While the authors consider regional differences in model inputs, the output is generally one set of numbers for the entire world. The implication is that the solutions offered are largely global – with a few notable exceptions (example, limiting birth rates in Africa). I found this limitation to be frustrating as it implies that, for example, that North America should curtail grain processing for non-food uses because more food will needed in Africa. The flaws in meeting world food needs by increased shipment of food ingredients from ‘have’ countries to ‘have nots’ like Canada have been demonstrated on numerous occasions over the past century – and as recently as the ‘food crisis’ and the associated panic buying, hoarding and export prohibitions of 2007/08. We are seeing signs of the same in early stages of the COVID-19 crisis. Most countries want some degree of food self-sufficiency, regardless of the ease of importation during so-called ‘normal’ times. For more discussion on this, see The 2007/08 Agricultural Price Spikes: Causes and Policy Implications, issued by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Government of the UK.
  6. The authors emphasize comparisons with the years 1960 to 2010 – and sometimes 1980-2010 – in computing the potential for annual incremental increases in average agricultural/food production. But they don’t acknowledge that the years from about 1981 to 2007 were mostly years of global surplus production for many agricultural commodities. Indeed, that quarter century was an era when the focus of many (most?) international agricultural negotiations was on managing surplus production. Several countries introduced programs to discourage farm production for food during those years. One of the stated goals of the ill-fated Doha Round of World Trade Organization negotiations was to reduce subsidies that encouraged over-production and exports of cheap food ingredients to less-developed, less-wealthy countries. Many countries – both developed and under-developed – reduced expenditures on agriculture after about 1981. To base estimates of future productivity on production during decades when increased production was often discouraged seems misguided.
  7. One must agree with the authors’ assertion that reduction in food losses and wastage represents good opportunity to increase food supply. However, I don’t believe enough attention was given by WRI to the issue of year-to-year variations in weather and crop productivity. Food processors and farmers supplying those companies usually plan for some over-production in seasonal plantings to allow for those unpredictable years when inclement weather or pests mean below-average production. The same applies to the need to have reasonable reserves (including commodities with relatively short warehousing lifetimes) for disruptions in transportation, labour supply, government interjections and irrational hoarding. Wastage – while it does affect supply needs directly is often a less critical sin than the spectre of food shortages.
  8. The authors are harsh on livestock, especially ruminant agriculture, though avoided the too-simplistic approach of total elimination sometimes recommended by others. That’s not likely to happen, for reasons that the authors discuss. That said I believe that the authors have over-looked three considerations in their call for large reductions in ruminant agriculture.
    • While authors discuss at some length the implications of grazing, or not, of grassland and potentially grazable grasslands like savannah and thin forests, they largely overlook the benefits of perennial forage crop species in arable crop rotations. A further shift away usage of perennial forage usage in favour of more annual crops like grains, oilseeds and pulse crops would be negative for soil quality with long-term effects on crop-soil productivity. With some types of agriculture (notable organic), the cessation of ruminant agriculture would mean drastic effects on production and productivity.
    • Methane emissions are the main reason why ruminant agriculture is considered worse for GHG emissions compared to other classes of livestock and plant-based alternatives. However, missing is recognition that methane, because of its relatively short atmospheric existence (half-life ~10 years) is different from CO2 and N2O that last much longer. There is growing recognition that this must be considered in future analyses of ruminant contribution to climate change, even if the scientific community does not yet agree on how to so this in calculations. Note that it is different with N2O from livestock manure. Manure is an important source of N2O, but its elimination would mean a correspondingly larger supply of N2O from other sources of nitrogen fertilizer.
    • Thirdly, though I may have missed this, I don’t think the authors address the fate of grasslands if marked reductions occur in grazing by ruminant agriculture. My guess is that one result would be more grazing by wild animals – including ruminants like deer.
  9. The authors devote one chapter to plant breeding with a quick overview of technologies available and a projection of future achievements based on extensions of the past. I am disappointed in their discussion of genetic engineering (transgenics, CRISPR, etc.). The authors note, correctly in my view, that the most significant achievements of plant biotechnology are likely to come from other applications, but then focus virtually all of the subsequent discussion on two current technologies – herbicide tolerance and Bt usage in major commercial crops. There are several pages of discussion about the use and safety of glyphosate (with excessive attention paid, in my view, to a comparatively minute number of studies that report negative effects). Unfortunately, there is essentially nothing in this report about biotech-enhanced drought tolerance, improved nutritional composition (‘Golden Rice’ is not mentioned), disease resistance or tolerance to difficult soils, nitrogen fixation in non-legume species, or enhancements in photosynthetic ability, to list but a few of the opportunities now under intensive current investigation. The authors state that biotech usage to date is dominated by large companies but fail to note that this is almost entirely the result of lobbying by NGOs and their allies in European governments. It is not because of inherent difficulties in using/exploiting these technologies per se, or their relative risks to health and environment as compared to other widely used technologies such as genetic mutation created by exposure to radiation or mutagenic chemicals. In a later chapter in the report, the authors highlight “breakthough technologies” but with only the scantiest reference to use of biotechnology in plant breeding. Very strange, in my view.  If I’d been writing a report on how to produce more food in 2050 while producing fewer GHG emissions, I’d likely have devoted half the report to improvements through genetics and plant breeding. But we all have our biases, World Resources Institute writers included.
  10. The report is very negative on biofuels, recommending a complete elimination of their usage. Their argument is based on calculations of effects of biofuels on total food supply and on the assumption that biofuels means increased losses of organic carbon from soils and forests. If one assumes a fixed amount of photosynthetic production by global agriculture, the usage of some of this for biofuels means less for food. That’s inarguable. But this neglects how biofuel development occurred, at least in the case of ethanol from corn in North America. Steady increases in corn yields over recent decades, thanks to plant breeding and other technologies, has meant major increases in grain corn production per hectare or nation relative to more traditional usage needs, such as food and feed usage and exports. Ethanol production/usage has helped to use that increased supply. Increases in corn acreage increase, to the extent that they have occurred, have come at the expense of other lower-yielding arable annual crops such as wheat, and not from the cultivation of former rangeland or forests. WRI argues that the increased supply provided by biofuel elimination should be used to produce food for consumption in other countries or through a reversion of former Midwest cornfields to forests and grasslands. The WRI analyses ignores effects on farm family and rural community viability. Note that my analysis does not apply to biofuel production everywhere. What’s right for Iowa or Southern Ontario is not necessarily right for other continents – and vice versa.

I want to close this critique on the positive. I was especially impressed with the depth of the discussion in the WRI report on the potential (likely limited) for sequestering carbon in agricultural soils. The discussion on nitrous oxide from synthetic fertilizer and manure usage, and methane from manure, is detailed and very informative, even if oriented mainly to developed countries like the United States. (India, as an example, has three times more cattle than the USA.)

The report provides a very useful resource for organizations and governments developing strategies to produce much more food by 2050 while reducing GHG emissions substantially. This applies even if readers/users do not follow the specific recommendations provided. Congratulations to the authors.




The Ontario Corn Committee – Still Advancing Hybrid Corn after 83 Years

OCC report collage

Hybrid test reports of the Ontario Corn Committee over the years. Photo credit: David Morris.


A group of corn growers and others could not have realized, when they met in early 1937 at the annual Chatham corn show, that they were starting an organization that would still serve Ontario agriculture 83 years later.

The meeting, organized by the Ontario Corn Growers Association (OCGA) with representatives from the Canada and Ontario Departments of Agriculture (CDA and ODA), the Ontario Agricultural College (OAC) and the Canadian Seed Growers’ Association (CSGA), was triggered by the recent popularity of corn hybrids in the United States and growing interest in Southwestern Ontario.  Those present included Fred Dimmock who had been inbreeding corn at CDA research stations since 1923 – initially at Harrow and then at Ottawa – and L.C. Raymond who was producing ‘hybrid’ corn at McDonald College in Quebec.  (Raymond’s hybrids were actually crosses between open-pollinated varieties.  These and similar crosses imported from the northeastern U.S. were grown for silage in Ontario and Quebec until well into the 1950s.)

Following the meeting, a formal request was made to the Deputy Minister of CDA, supported by a petition from 110 farmers, that CDA encourage hybrid development.  The files of Ontario Corn Committee contain the original petition with signatures in pencil and a supporting letter from Paul Martin, MP.  (Paul Martin was then the Member of Parliament for Windsor and part of Essex County; his son, also Paul Martin, and Prime Minister of Canada from 2003-2006, says he detasselled  Essex County seed corn fields while a teenager.)

At a second meeting in late 1937, results of corn hybrid comparison tests grown that year at Woodslee, Ridgetown and Guelph were reviewed, and concern was expressed over “unscrupulous persons” selling inferior hybrids imported from the United States.  A committee, chaired by Dr. McRostie of the OAC, with reps from CDA, ODA, and the Ridgetown and Harrow stations, was created to take action.

The ‘Committee on Hybrid Corn’ met several times in 1938 and recommended establishing new corn breeding programs at Harrow and Guelph. Hybrid tests were done in 1938 and at more locations in 1939.  On-farm hybrid corn demonstrations were organized by county agricultural representatives.

By early 1940, the committee was considering how to produce hybrid seed corn in Ontario, especially of the popular University of Wisconsin hybrids.  Beginning that spring, Wisconsin inbreds were grown for seed at Harrow and single-cross hybrids were produced from these at Ridgetown.  The single-cross seed, in turn, was sold to seed growers and the resulting double-cross hybrid seed sold to farmers.  This continued for about 15 years.

The committee met with many delegations such as open-pollinated seed growers in 1940 worried that hybrid corn pollen was contaminating their seed fields. Hybrid seed quality was of continuing concern.

Twenty-five hybrids were approved for production in Ontario in 1941, though only six were recommended by the committee – five from Wisconsin and one from Pioneer.

On July 7, 1941, the committee renamed itself the Ontario Corn Committee (OCC) serving as an advisory committee to the CDA, ODA and the CSGA on matters concerning the breeding, testing, and recommending of corn hybrids, and corn publicity.

With Dr. T.M. Stevenson of CDA as chairman and Fred  Dimmock as secretary, the OCC operated with essentially the same members and work plan for the next 16 years, testing new corn hybrids for approval for sale, making hybrid recommendations, overseeing farm demonstrations, producing pamphlets on corn, and dealing with industry concerns. A farmer representative from the Ontario Crop Improvement Association joined the OCC in 1948.

The first Canadian-bred (‘Canbred’) hybrids came from Dimmock at the Central Experimental Farm, Ottawa in 1941, and some of these were later sold as ‘Pride’ and ‘Warwick’ hybrids. The Harrow station released its first ‘Harvic’ hybrids in 1944; one became popular quickly when marketed as ‘King 300.’

From the beginning there was dissension about the value of OCC tests and the requirement to ‘license’ hybrids before sale in Canada.  Farm delegations during the 1940s and 1950s asked for both continuance and discontinuance.  Seed companies did the same.  Efforts to eliminate licensing came also from researchers and government reps; a 1953 motion to seek discontinuation failed by only a 9:11 count.  The license requirement remained for another 40 years.

Hybrid recommendations for farmers were even more controversial, especially since these were often based on personal opinions and negotiations with suppliers.  Some years no recommendations were issued.  Sometimes Ridgetown, Guelph and Kemptville made their own. In 1943, the Essex and Kent Corn Producers’ Cooperative Association developed a recommended list containing only Pioneer, Funk and DeKalb hybrids, and one white hybrid from Iowa.  Performance data were never provided.

There were not enough white corn hybrids to meet the needs of the Chatham-based White Corn Company; supplying Kellogg’s was a big issue in the late 1940s.  But Kellogg’s soon learned to make corn flakes from yellow corn and the interest evaporated.

The number of approved and/or recommended hybrids was always an issue – always too many. By 1945, the number of recommended hybrids had grown to 46.  In 1947, the Essex and Kent Corn Producers’ Cooperative Association said that they had all the hybrids necessary and wanted no more. But by 1955, 62 hybrids were recommended, growing to 102 in 1959.  Recent OCC listings have over 200 hybrids.

Because of the dissension, growing demands from farmers for hybrid performance data and, perhaps, a change in its membership, the OCC changed substantially during the late 1950s and early 1960s.  Corn performance tests were established across the province where all licensed and marketed hybrids were compared annually and test results were published.  The OCC became much more active in coordinating and making recommendations on other corn research and industry needs.

The Ontario Corn Heat Unit (CHU) hybrid and maturity-zone rating system was introduced in 1964, based on research by Murray Brown and Lyman Chapman at the Ontario Research Foundation.  (Dr. Brown later joined the OAC.)  Before then, recommendations were made for up to seven maturity zones based on length of the growing season.

A significant problem with the new system was that ‘adapted’ hybrids at Guelph and Ottawa were not as dry at harvest as were those in the Southwest.  Hence, the committee defined ‘hybrid maturity’ for CHU purposes as an across-Ontario gradient of grain moisture percentage ranging from 40% at maturity in coolest areas to 28% in Essex. Dr. Wendell Snow, then head of Farm Crops at Ridgetown, termed this the ‘corn crib correction factor’; corn in higher CHU zones needed to be dryer before harvest because the corn cribs there were wider and the winter weather warmer.

More than 55 years later, the Ontario Corn Heat Unit system – with improvements made occasionally – continues to serve effectively.

Representatives of the Ontario Corn Producers’ Association (OCPA) joined the OCC soon after OCPA was created in 1983 and the membership has evolved since to include other industry reps.

A major change occurred in 1996 when Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada terminated corn hybrid licensing.  The OCC continues to operate corn performance tests, with results still valued by corn farmers, and now distributed via the Internet.  In 2019 the OCC conducted hybrid performance tests at 19 test sites.

The Ontario Corn Committee has been blessed with a small number of mostly long-serving secretaries who kept excellent records.  They were James Garner (ODA agricultural representative, Chatham), 1937-41; Fred Dimmock, 1941-57; George Jones (OAC, to become part of the University of Guelph), 1957-70; Archie McLaren (Western Ontario Agricultural School, now Ridgetown Campus, University of Guelph), 1970-90; David Morris (crop specialist, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food), 1990-93; Gordon Schiefele (Ridgetown), 1993-97; and David Morris (now Owen Sound-based crop consultant), 1997-present.

They kept accurate records – perhaps sometimes overly accurate, as in McLaren’s recording in 1972 of a statement that “grain sorghum has no *?x place in Ontario at this time.” (This followed several years of unrewarding tests.)

And the job could be trying. George Jones’ summation of a December 1958 meeting ends with: “At this point the secretary departed in spirit if not in body and very shortly the meeting was adjourned.” Fortunately George came back to take minutes the next year, and the record continued.

This has been a remarkable organization.


David Morris, of Owen Sound Ontario, and long-serving secretary of the Ontario Corn Committee, provided minutes of the committee dating back to 1937. They are the basis for most of what’s provided above. Another important source was Leonard Pegg’s book Pulling Tassels, published by Blenheim Publishers Ltd in 1988.

The Long-Forgotten Ontario Corn Growers’ Association, 1908-1942


Photo probably taken in the 1920s or early 1930s. One team of horses pulls the corn binder which cuts the plant off, ties it in a sheaf and elevates the sheaf into the wagon (power derived from the ground-driven ‘bull wheel’). At the silo, the cutting box chops and blows the material into the silo. Note the stubble: the corn was planted in hills of three or plants and was ‘checked,’ allowing cultivation in both directions. Credit: Leonard Pegg, Pulling Tassels.

When the Ontario Corn Producers’ Association (OCPA) was created in late 1982, the founders wanted to call it the Ontario Corn Growers’ Association (OCGA).  But the corporate registry office said no, that name was already taken. There was some momentary puzzlement about this unknown group – but no time for further research, and the intended new OCGA simply became OCPA. The incident was soon forgotten.

In the late 1990s, I discovered another vague reference to the Ontario Corn Growers’ Association on the University of Guelph web site. But, again, no time to explore further.

After leaving OCPA in 2002, with more spare time, I contacted the National Corn Growers Association and several of its state affiliates to inquire about origins. “We were the first, founded in 1957; there was nothing earlier,” emailed a longtime employee with the Iowa Corn Growers Association.

“Are you sure?” I emailed back, “For I have a photograph from 1928 of a corn yield award given by the Iowa Corn and Small Grain Growers Association.” Further checking revealed that in Iowa – as in Ontario – there had been a much earlier organization.

The archives of the University of Guelph contained more: annual reports for 1911, 1912, 1914 and 1917 for the Ontario Corn Growers’ Association. I also discovered that Leonard Pegg had reproduced the first (1908) annual report of the OCGA in an appendix to his 1988 book, Pulling Tassels: A history of seed corn in Ontario. Collectively, these sources tell the story of an organization which flourished for more than 30 years, attracting up to 1600 people to its annual convention and corn exhibition.

Leonard Pegg is the source for much of what follows.  He, in turn, secured considerable information from records of the former Chatham office of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food (OMAFRA) and from the former Chatham office of the Plants Product Division, Canada Department of Agriculture. Archie McLaren, former head of Farm Crops at the Ridgetown College of Agricultural Technology, also helped with Pegg’s research.

A seed dealer, J.O. Duke of Olinda (near Leamington ON), and the first to register a corn variety with the newly founded (1904) Canada Seed Growers’ Association, was instrumental in the creation in 1908 of the Ontario Corn Growers’ Association.  He was its founding president. Angus McKenney of Essex, one of Ontario’s first agricultural representatives (Ontario Department of Agriculture, later to be called OMAFRA), was secretary. The first OCGA convention was held in the Town of Essex in February 1909.  There were 28 founding directors from as far east as West Lorne ON, and more than 300 members.  The convention proceedings included speeches by Duke, Professor Charles Zavitz from the Ontario Agricultural College and Dr. L.S. Klink from Macdonald College, on topics such as seed corn selection, corn growing, fertilization, tillage, tile drainage, and marketing. T.S. Biggar, manager of the Hiram Walker Farm at Walkerville, said that corn grower organizations were also being formed then in adjacent states.

The annual convention moved around at the beginning – Essex again in 1910, Chatham in 1911, Tilbury in 1912, Windsor in 1913, Chatham in 1914 through 1916, and Kingsville in 1917 – but then moved permanently to Chatham from 1918 through 1942.  The Chatham site was the Armoury except for World War II years when it was shifted to ‘Hudson Sales and Service.’

A corn ear exhibition dominated the founding convention and all that followed. Corn exhibitions were where farmers chose new seed sources. The annual reports contain numerous photos of award-winning ears. Many Canadian and American farmers were convinced at that time that large, uniform, attractive ears were the best sources of seed for producing top-yielding crops.

Seed sales to corn silage growers in the rest of Ontario and Quebec were especially important.  Indeed, one reason for exhibitions was to inform eastern farmers that Southwestern Ontario seed was as good as that imported from the United States.

J.H. Grisdale, Director of Experimental Farms, Ottawa told them in 1911 to “Send us good corn and I can promise you a market that can take every bushel of good seed that you can grow.”

The corn exhibitions often partnered with other groups – the Chatham Poultry and Pet Stock Association in 1920 and the Kent Crop Improvement Association in the late 1930s.

There were lots of events in addition to speaker programs and corn ear competitions – sales of purebred Duroc swine and Shorthorn cattle in 1920, and a corn husking competition and hog calling contest in 1937.

Speeches on superior ways to grow and market corn were valued.  Usually present were the Ontario Minister of Agriculture, experts from the U.S., and the president of the Ontario Agricultural College.  OAC President Creelman told farmers in 1919, “the more we cultivate, the better it is for corn.”  (Research on herbicides and no-tillage came decades later.)

In 1914, Jack Miner of Kingsville ON, who called himself “a sort of converted Jessie James to the bird family,” talked about the rare Canadian Wild Geese: Thirty-two geese visited him first in 1909 (of which Miner shot ten) increasing to 350 in 1910.

The printed advertisements are intriguing. In 1912, W.C. Cowley in Tilbury promoted the Johnston Massey Harris Corn Binder that “handles tall corn, short corn, heavy corn, light corn, down corn, standing corn, all corn to your satisfaction.”  Maxwell corn shellers could be driven by “hand or power.” Alberta and Saskatchewan wanted settlers. The Ontario Agricultural College sought students.

Cold summer weather in 1917 in Ontario and the U.S. Midwest meant good seed was scarce the next winter – the dominant theme at the February 1918 convention.  Corn prices were then more than $4 per bushel ($60/bu in 2020 currency).  At the 1920 convention, farmers asked the Ontario agriculture minister, Manning Doherty, to locate a research farm in Southwestern Ontario.  The Western Ontario Experimental Farm was created at Ridgetown in 1922.

Devastation by the European corn borer dominated OCGA considerations during the 1920s. Though borer damage diminished during the 1930s, OCGA urged the Government of Ontario, repeatedly, to enforce the Corn Borer Control Act mandating corn stalks to be buried by plowing in autumn.  Enforcement required up to 100 field inspectors, and continued until 1947.

Low prices and corn imports were even greater concerns. OCGA convinced Ottawa to impose a 25 cents/bushel duty in 1931 on corn imported from the United States and Argentina. But corn imported for processing was exempt. (There were several distilleries, and starch plants at Port Credit and Cardinal.) In addition, large increases occurred in imports from ‘British South Africa,’ because Ottawa wouldn’t penalize corn imports from within the British Empire. Hence, Ontario corn prices remained at 40-50 cents per bushel – versus calculated production costs above 75 cents.

Transportation was a big issue. Corn by rail to Toronto from Michigan cost less than from Chatham and OCGA sought change. OCGA pursued tax incentives for artificial dryer construction for there was then only one Ontario dryer – at the Walkerville distillery (drying cost, 2 cents per bushel).  OCGA also wanted a grain terminal elevator at Windsor.

Dr. W.R. Reek, director of the Ridgetown experimental farm from 1922-1937 and, after that, the Ontario Deputy Minister of Agriculture, was OCGA president during the early 1930s. OCGA flourished into the late 1930s, though listed membership was then less than 150. Corn exhibitions were doubtlessly an important source of funding.

Despite these years of success, the last convention/exhibition occurred in 1942 and OCGA died about the same time. Details of its demise are unknown, but hybrid corn was undoubtedly the cause.

With hybrid corn increasing from 50% of Kent-Essex grain corn acreage in 1940 to virtually 100% in 1944, the value of OCGA corn exhibitions plummeted. Many OCGA leaders were seed producers and shifted their attention to the Ontario Seed Corn Growers’ Marketing Board founded in 1940. James Garner, then agricultural representative at Chatham and OCGA secretary for many years, helped champion the fledgling hybrid corn industry.  The Ontario Corn Committee began in 1939. More time spent on hybrid development meant less time for OCGA.

In any case, the Ontario Corn Grower’ Association which had thrived and been a dominant agricultural force for more than 30 years disappeared quickly. Today scarcely anyone remembers its existence.


Pegg, Leonard. 1988. Pulling Tassels. A history of seed corn in Ontario. Blenheim Publishers Ltd., Blenheim, Ontario.

This is a revision of a column printed originally in Ontario Farmer in 2004. It’s re-posted here with permission.

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 . 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.


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 1980s
Adrian de Dreu Syngenta 2000
Adrian de Dreu De Dell 2000s
Michael (Mike) Enerson Cargill 1980/81
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. .

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.


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.


I’m impressed with an initiative announced in 2019 by @NFUtweets to achieve zero net GHG emissions for British agriculture by 2040.…. 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,…. See also,…

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:… .

Here are links to the Executive Summary and Part 1 containing the main data. (Parts 2 and 3 have more details about calculations.)…… .

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).

2020-01-26 10_43_47-Window

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

2020-01-26 10_47_37-Window

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.

2020-01-26 11_25_13-Window

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.



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.

2020-01-26 11_50_02-Window

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).

2020-01-27 16_57_50-Cdn Ag GHG Net Emissions.xlsx - Excel

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,…).

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.

How Early Farmers Grew Corn – Even as Wheat Dominated 19th Century Agriculture



Photo by Reuben Sallows, Goderich Ontario, early 1900s.

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

Early corn in Ontario

Even though it had been the principal crop of aboriginal agriculture for a thousand years, corn played only a minor role in pioneer Ontario. The settlers wanted wheat to make European foods and for export sales.  Spring wheat and, later, winter wheat were planted on the first cleared fields. Water-powered flour mills followed quickly and surplus produce was shipped to Montreal and England.

Only in Essex and Kent Counties in extreme southwestern Ontario was corn grown to a significant extent by immigrant farmers.  While settlers ate some corn-based foods, corn was mainly for pigs and chickens.

Father Louis Hennepin, the first European to describe Niagara Falls, recorded the earliest reference to European agriculture in present-day Ontario – on about 100 acres of land near Fort Frontenac (Kingston) around 1680. “Both the Indian and European corn throve very well,” he wrote, though “the corn was very much spoiled by grasshoppers,” a common result in all the parts of Canada because of “the extreme humidity of that country.”

The first permanent (French) settlers arrived near present-day Windsor in 1749, across the river from Fort Pontchartrain built in 1701 at the present site of Detroit Michigan.  They likely grew corn as did their aboriginal farmer neighbours. More extensive settlement occurred all across Southern Ontario after American independence in 1783.

Corn was grown by “Loyalist” settlers who came to Essex and Kent from the newly formed United States of America after 1783. In 1802, Angus Mackintosh, an Essex agent for the North West Company, informed farmers that he needed more white flint corn, not wheat or yellow “gourd” corn, for northern trading posts. But that was unusual. Wheat was dominant. For many farmers, the crop rotation after clearing forest trees was wheat-wheat-wheat.

Wheat ruled Ontario agriculture until 1865 when the American civil war ended and new US import duties depressed Ontario wheat prices.  Provincial livestock production then flourished. Cheese factories arose everywhere and dairying expanded.  Better-quality cattle were imported and bred.  Wheat was still the main or only grain crop on farms until the early 1900s when production shifted to the Prairies and oats and barley grew in popularity in Ontario. In Kent-Essex, tobacco became the money crop.

The 1881 Report of the Ontario Agricultural Commission devotes 27 pages to wheat, versus four for each of “Indian corn” and oats and barley.  Though grown mainly in southwestern Ontario, small quantities of corn were present elsewhere, including Muskoka and Manitoulin where “Corn does well and is seldom affected by spring frosts,” states the report.

Though the report discusses corn fodder, corn silage is not mentioned.  Nor is it in the extensive “History and Incidents of Indian Corn, and Its Culture” published by William Emerson in the United States in 1878.  But “The Book of Corn” published in 1903 has a full chapter on silage.  Corn silage was apparently produced on a limited scale after 1850, though the first tower silos were only built (in Michigan and Maryland) in 1875. Hand-chopped corn silage was popular in Ontario after 1900 to supplement turnips, carrots and mangolds/mangels grown for winter feed.

Dual-purpose Shorthorn and Ayrshire cattle dominated Ontario livestock in 1881. There were no Ontario Holsteins yet, though present in New York State. There were many sheep – and sheep exports – 100,000 to Britain in 1880 alone.  Pork production was minor except in Kent and Essex where corn was fed. Local corn was sold to distilleries in Walkerville and Amherstburg after 1850.

Early corn in the Thirteen Colonies

Unlike Ontario, corn dominated agriculture in the Thirteen Colonies – for reasons of both circumstance and soil-climate.

The first settlers in Virginia in 1607 lacked skills or interest in farming.  England was to provide the food while they sought natural riches. But the boats didn’t arrive, and kind aboriginals provided corn to prevent them from starving.  Only after two years did settlers learn to grow their own.

The Pilgrims reaching Cape Cod in 1620 expected to buy corn from natives.  Natives soon taught them how to farm. Early settlers elsewhere in the Thirteen Colonies learned native corn farming techniques from the beginning.  Peter Kalm, a Swedish botanist, wrote in 1751 that corn did much better than wheat on the prevalent sandy, drought-susceptible soils of the Atlantic seaboard.  In Pennsylvania and New York where soils are less sandy, wheat was more dominant.

American colonists adapted native farming techniques: they girdled and burned trees; planted corn in hills (versus broadcasting seeding of grain crops in Europe) and stored ears in cribs.  Birds, rodents and weeds plagued colonial crops just as they had for the natives.  However, horses and oxen were now used for tilling soils. Aboriginal farmers had used “no till” planting and hand weeding.

Farmer George Washington reported 12.5 bushels per acre on 75 acres of corn grown in 1800, worth about thirty cents per bushel.  President Thomas Jefferson, also a prominent farmer, wrote about corn growing.

As settlement proceeded westward, corn farmers led the way.  Frontier farmers often grew corn continuously without fertilizer on newly cleared lands.  When infertility depressed yields, they simply moved westward.  Other farmers fertilized corn with manure, fish or crop rotations.

Corn adapted slowly to mechanization

Farming changed little for two centuries after the first arrival of settlers from Europe, but as the nineteenth century unfolded, so did the inventions. There were thousands of new plows and tillage machines. One hundred patents for hand planters before 1869. The first mechanical corn seeders appeared after 1800, but acceptance came slowly. Early mechanical seeders could not plant corn in hills perfectly aligned both ways for cultivation (“horse-hoeing”) for weed control.

Farmers marked fields two ways with light sleds (runners 40-44 inches apart), and then planted three to eight seeds per hill, up to four acres/day, with a “hand jabber” planter. Final stand depended on pest damage. “One seed for the blackbird, one for the crow, one for the cutworm and one to grow.” Tillers (suckers) were often removed manually.

Though testimonial information (formal research began only about 1870) showed that drilled corn yielded more, check planting remained popular – for both ease of cultivation for weed control and aesthetics. I remember seeing check-planted corn in southwestern Ontario and the US into the 1950s.  Fields with corn hills lining up every direction were sure attractive.

Mechanical planting in properly spaced hills did evolve, thanks to the use of trip wires with regularly spaced knots that were laid across fields to be seeded, but these were awkward to use.

Mechanical harvesting came even more slowly. Early settlers, like natives, harvested ears with husks attached in autumn, and “shucked” them later in community husking bees – major social events. Hand-held bone or wooden “shucking pegs” were the same as those used centuries earlier.

By 1800, corn shocks (stooks) had become popular. The farmer first bound together the tops of plants in four adjacent hills, using stalks, grape vines or elm-bark strips, and then stacked plants from other hills around the outside.  Plants then dried, sometimes until well into winter, when ears were removed. Winter wheat was often inter-seeded between the shocks.  Horse-drawn sleds with stalk-cutting edges, and, later, corn binders, speeded the shocking process in the mid-to-late 1800s.

Stover remaining after ear removal was often used for winter feed.  Though leaves were once collected from immature plants, this largely ended before 1825 because it reduced yield.

Direct harvesting and husking became common.  Horses pulled wagons slowly up the field while farmers removed and shucked the ears, and threw them into wagon boxes.  “Bang boards” above the opposite side of the wagon helped prevent ears from being thrown clear across.

Efforts to design a mechanical corn “dehusker” began before 1850. “Indian Corn and its Culture,” published in 1878, describes a “machine husker” resembling a modern corn picker. But the 1903 “Book of Corn” states, “no practical machine adapted to [field harvesting] has appeared.” The first horse-drawn field pickers arrived around 1900.

Nap King of Pain Court, Ontario, formerly president of King Grain, recalled how his father first bought a tractor-powered corn picker in 1927. “Much better than hand picking,” said Nap.  But both picker and tractor were causes for controversy.  Pickers missed too many ears, critics said.  And tractors compacted the fields!

Mechanical corn picking was hampered by the natural breakage of stalks before harvest – far worse when European corn borer insects appeared about 1920.  Indeed, the acceptance of hybrid corn in the 1930s and 1940s in southwestern Ontario was driven as much by superior standability and machine harvestability as by better yields.

Shelling was equally time consuming.  Hand shelling gave way to hand-powered single-ear  shellers by about 1850.  Larger machine shellers came much later.

As late as World War I, except for “horse power,” North American corn farming largely resembled what native farmers had practiced centuries earlier.  Most of what now constitutes “modern corn technology” had yet to be developed.

Some references:

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

Hamil, Fred C. 1951. The Valley of the Lower Thames, 1640-1850. University of Toronto Press.

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

Orange Judd Company. 1903. The Book of Corn.

Pegg, Leonard. 1988. Pulling Tassels, A history of seed corn in Ontario. Blenheim (ON) Publishers Ltd.

Reaman, G. Elmore. 1970. A History of Agriculture in Ontario. Volume I. Hazell Watson & Viney Ltd., Aylesbury UK.


How Corn Began

 About 17 years ago, I wrote a series of articles on the history of corn for the Ontario Farmer. With its permission, I plan to reproduce several of them, with minor revision, on this blog site. A couple of the original columns feature historical information already available on the site and so won’t be reproduced here. Future columns will be mainly about corn in Ontario and adjacent parts of North America in years following settlement by immigrant farmers. However, the first is a brief overview of corn’s origins. More information is available in the references listed at the end of the article.


Teosinte ear (Zea mays ssp mexicana) on the left, maize ear on the right, and ear of their F1 hybrid in the center (photo by John Doebley, University of Wisconsin)

The real gold discovered by Columbus in 1492 in the New World was a plant that Caribbean Indians called “Mahiz.” Maize seeds were brought back to Spain, planted and the new crop spread quickly.  Within a generation, it covered much of southern Europe and parts of Africa.  Soon after, it reached India, China and Southeast Asia.

The high, yield and ability of maize/corn to produce several hundred seeds per seed planted – far greater than with Old World grains – made it popular.

Corn flourished, though details were rarely recorded.  Indeed, seventeenth-century botanists identified Turkey or Africa as its place of origin. “Turkish wheat” or “Guinea wheat” were common names. Some writers linked corn to Biblical scriptures, proclaiming a Mediterranean origin.

A treasured book of mine, “Le Maïs ou Blé de Turquie,” first published in Bordeaux France in 1785, debates whether the source was Old World or New. With time, the evidence became clearer: It was the New World, specifically Mexico, where corn began.

The story begins with arrival of humans in Mexico sometime before 10,000 BC.  The first people in Mexico, as in most of the Americas, were big game hunters. But as human populations grew and large animals became scarce or extinct (mammoths, indigenous horses), people in Mexico became more dependent on wild plants for food. With time, they selected preferred plant types and eventually learned about planting.

Beans, squash and gourds were among the first “farmed” crops.  They also ate grass seeds such as Setaria (foxtail). Eventually they tried teosinte.

Teosinte is a grassy weed growing in certain semi-arid valleys of Mexico and northern Guatemala.  Teosinte plants exist as both annuals and perennials and look like well-tillered corn, with male flowers at the top and female flowers in leaf axils.

The seed and ear structures, however, are very unlike corn. Seeds are encased in hard shells – a bit like buckwheat – and grow in a single spike that shatters at maturity. There are many spikes per leaf axillary node.

Because of the different seed structure, many scientists rejected teosinte as the parent for corn when this was first proposed sometime before 1900. Some still argue that the true ancestor is a now-extinct plant, and that teosinte is only a relative.

But the case for teosinte is strong.  Corn and teosinte have the same chromosome number, they cross easily, and resulting seeds are fertile.  Genetic studies have shown that the key differences between teosinte and corn involve only about five major genes.

Teosinte seed casings must be removed and/or softened before eating. Some researchers suggest that early diners popped the seeds by heating – like popcorn.  Perhaps seed casings were removed using grinding stones. Or teosinte seeds may have been softened in water and then eaten directly with hulls spit out after partial chewing (like sunflower seeds). Eventually someone found a mutant with no seed cases, or softer ones, and teosinte became a better food crop.

The difference between a single and multiply double kernel rows also involves mutant genes. One gene permitted teosinte kernels to grow in two alternating rows, somewhat like heads of rye or two-row barley.  Other mutations meant two-row teosinte became four-row corn – and later eight-row corn.  The latter is still grown in Mexico, known by names such as “Maiz de Ocho.” (The number of kernel rows is always even since two seeds develop at each node on the compressed “rachis” or cob in all types of corn except teosinte where only one kernel develops.  Modern Ontario hybrids usually have 14, 16, 18 or 20 kernel rows.)

Natural mutation and human selection changed teosinte/corn from having several spikes per axil to only one large ear.  However, the original teosinte trait still exists in modern corn.  If you examine an ear of corn at silking, you’ll find several tiny ears – each with its own minute kernel initials – in the axils of husk leaves.  If the main ear does not pollinate properly, the side ears will sometimes enlarge and produce silks.

The first archeological evidence of corn dates back 7000 years to Tehuacán caves near Mexico City containing cobs, about one inch long, which once bore 50-60 kernels in four or eight kernel rows per ear.  The initial steps in domestication likely occurred as much as 2000 years earlier.

Teosinte still crosses naturally with corn where teosinte grows wild near Mexican cornfields.  Cross pollination occurred regularly during early days of domestication, adding new genes to the corn genetic base.

A rapid expansion in corn ear size occurred about 1500-1000 BC.  Higher yields triggered a boom in human cultural development. Corn served as the base – both nutritional and religious – for several Mexican societies including the successive Olmec, Mayan, Toltec and Aztec civilizations between 1200 BC and the time of Spanish conquest. Corn also dominated life for the Incas in South America.

The first evidence of corn in the United States was found in caves in New Mexico, containing corn ear remnants from about 2500 BC.  Corn was grown extensively from 0 to 1400 AD throughout Arizona and New Mexico using sophisticated irrigation schemes. These major southwestern civilizations ended for unknown reasons about 200-400 years before the Spanish conquest, leaving only the building ruins that are so intriguing to tourists today.  However, some present-day Hopi, Navajo and other southwestern Indian communities still grow corn using traditional varieties. (Blue corn is popular.)

From Mexico and the southwestern United States, corn spread slowly north and east by various avenues including a dominant route along the Gulf coast to the Mississippi and thence north. Substantial settlements existed at various times up the Mississippi.

A spectacular site is the former city of Cahokia, near St. Louis, where up to 30,000 people lived before 1400 AD in a settlement extending over six square miles.  Imagine how much corn would have been required at an estimated per-capita annual consumption of 8.5 bushels!

Most native corn in the Mississippi valley and southeastern United States had soft, long, thin, indented white kernels, commonly called “gourdseed” corn by settlers. Ears were fat and squatty, often containing more than one thousand kernels in 16 to 36 kernel rows.

By contrast, the indigenous corn grown in Ontario, in New England, the northern Great Plains and in states bordering the Great Lakes, had round, yellow or white, flint kernels, generally with only eight or ten kernel rows on long, thin cobs.

U.S. east coast settlers grew both flint corn favoured by northern aboriginals and gourdseed varieties from the south.  Eventually the two were crossed to form the familiar dent corn that now dominates North American agriculture.

The plant now grown worldwide is known as “maiz” in Latin America, “maïs” in France and Germany, “blé d’inde” in Quebec, “maize” in most English-speaking countries and by many other names elsewhere – including “corn” in English-speaking Canada and the United States. The double name, “Indian corn,” once used widely to distinguish maize from old world corns such as wheat and rye is rarely used. (“Indian corn” now means only a particular type of multi-coloured flint.)

Corn has been called the New World’s greatest gift to humankind. Little did Christopher Columbus realize the real treasure he had encountered in the New World was the few corn ears he took back home.

Some readily accessible references on origins of corn:

Carroll, Sean B. 2010. Tracking the Ancestry of Corn Back 9,000 Years. New York Times.

Doebley, John. 2004. The Genetics of Maize Evolution. Annual Review of Genetics.

Edmeades, G.O.; Trevisan, W.; Prasanna, B.M.; Campos, H. 2017. Tropical maize (Zea mays L.). In: Campos, H.; Caligari, P.D.S. (eds). Genetic improvement of tropical crops.

Fedoroff, Nina. 2004. Ancestors of Science – Prehistoric GM Corn. Science.

Katz, Brigit. 2018. Rethinking the Corny History of Maize. Smithsonian Magazine.

National Geographic. 2009. Corn Domesticated From Mexican Wild Grass 8,700 Years Ago.