Canola breeder receives Sask. Order of Merit

Keith Downey has received a long list of recognitions and distinguished awards, but he says the Saskatchewan Order of Merit is the one he values most. | File photo

Keith Downey has received a long list of recognitions and distinguished awards, but he says the Saskatchewan Order of Merit is the one he values most.

“The icing on the cake,” said Downy, who has earned a worldwide reputation as one of the fathers of canola for his oilseed breeding program and research for converting rapeseed into canola.

“It’s very gratifying and I’m much humbled by it.… It felt very good that the province had recognized the input of my team because you don’t do all of this on your own.”

Downy is among 10 recipients of the 2016 Saskatchewan Order of Merit, the province’s highest order.

Established in 1985, the award recognizes excellence, achievement and contributions made for the betterment of the province in areas such as the arts, agriculture, business, industry, community leadership, occupations, professions, public service, research and volunteer service.

Downey was born in Saskatoon and earned degrees from the University of Saskatchewan and Cornell University.

He initially worked as an alfalfa breeder at Agriculture Canada’s research station in Lethbridge.

He returned to Saskatoon in 1958 to pursue oilseed breeding research at the federal research centre. He is associated with the release of 13 rapeseed-canola varieties and five condiment mustard varieties.

Canola acreages have expanded from a few thousand acres 50 years ago to more than 20 million now, and the crop has become a multibillion-dollar industry.

Downey said canola also changed the way farmers farm.

“Rotations have changed, and the opportunities have changed with it (canola) coming in.”

He said something that is often overlooked are the number of oil extraction plants that dot the western Canadian landscape, which provide good rural jobs.

“I’m proud that we’ve been able to make those changes,” he said. “You don’t start out working on a problem expecting to get a medal or anything like that or recognition.”

Downy said his award of merit will stay close at hand for the time being, although he has given many of his major awards to the Western Development Museum to care for.

He is an inductee in the Saskatchewan and the Canadian agricultural halls of fame, an officer of the Order of Canada and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and the Agriculture Institute of Canada.

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