One of Canada’s most widely known farmers died Oct. 13 at the age of 89.
Percy Schmeiser of Bruno, Sask., gained fame in the 1990s as the man who fought a prolonged legal battle against Monsanto over the use of one of its flagship products, Roundup Ready canola.
Monsanto sued Schmeiser, claiming he had planted Monsanto’s patented canola seeds without its permission.
Schmeiser argued he did not intentionally use the company’s technology or acquire it illegally. Instead, he suggested, the seeds must have been dispersed onto his farmland by the wind or by neighbours’ grain trucks as they were passing.
A movie about Schmeiser’s legal fight with Monsanto, entitled Percy, was released earlier this year and is currently showing in theatres across the country.
Although Schmeiser’s legal battles with Monsanto gained him international recognition, he was well-known and locally respected long before his court room battles with Monsanto ever took shape.
Known for his community involvement and his participation in the prairie agriculture industry, Schmeiser held a variety positions in local and provincial politics and served as a director on boards and associations.
He began serving as a councillor for the Town of Bruno in 1962 and was elected Bruno’s mayor in 1967.
He also served as a member of Saskatchewan’s legislative assembly for a four-year term ending in 1971.
According to an obituary published by the Regina Leader-Post, one of his proudest moments was serving on the committee that chose Saskatchewan’s provincial flag in 1969.
Schmeiser’s involvement in agriculture began at a young age.
As a youngster, he worked on the family grain farm near Bruno and also pitched in at the gas station and local farm implement dealership that were operated by his father.
After leaving the farm to obtain a diploma in radio and television technology in Toronto, Schmeiser returned to Bruno in the mid-1950s to manage the family’s business interests, eventually expanding the family’s equipment dealership to a second location.
In the years that followed, he served as president of the White Farm Equipment Dealer Council and as director with the Saskatchewan Manitoba Implement Dealers Association.
In 1984, he received the Merit Award as SMIDA Dealer of the Year.
He also served as a board member of the Bruno Credit Union and spent two terms as a director with the Saskatchewan Real Estate Commission.
Locally, he was also a long-time member of the Bruno Lion’s Club, the Bruno Knights of Columbus, and the Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation.
After his legal battle with Monsanto, Schmeiser travelled widely as a speaker and farmer’s advocate and received numerous awards, including the prestigious Mahatma Gandhi Award in 2000, which recognizes recognizes efforts aimed at promoting the betterment of mankind in a non-violent way.
Terry Zakreski, a Saskatoon lawyer who represented Schmeiser during his legal battle with Monsanto, described Schmeiser as an “extraordinary man” who was humble, kind, worldly and well-educated.
“Percy was one of a kind,” Zakreski said.
“I’ve not met a man like him before or since. He was very down to earth, very educated though, and very easy to get among with,” Zakreski added.
“And he was always jovial in his dealings with me, always enthusiastic.”
Zakreski described Schmeiser’s legal fight with Monsanto as a stressful and intense time for Schmeiser.
“It was incredibly intense and there was a lot of pressure brought against him but the way that Percy shouldered it was amazing,” he said.
“Every morning he was there to greet me on our walk to court with a huge smile on his face, as big as all of Saskatchewan. The man was extraordinary and I was very privileged to have known him — to be his friend and to be his lawyer.”