Agriculture Hall of Fame inductees made lasting impressions

It may not be as high profile as Alberta’s Sports Hall of Fame on the highway near Red Deer, but our province does have an Agriculture Hall of Fame.

It may not be as high profile as Alberta’s Sports Hall of Fame on the highway near Red Deer, but our province does have an Agriculture Hall of Fame.

Like all such hallowed halls, it’s filled with individuals who have made lasting contributions “in the field” — and that’s literally for this one!

Alberta’s Agriculture Hall of Fame was expanded by three earlier this month. Once again, I had the privilege to work with legendary Call of the Land former host Jack Howell to share the biographies of the inductees at their awards dinner. It’s always an inspiring evening, and a chance to glimpse the variety and depth of the farming and food business in our province.

Joining the Hall’s esteemed ranks is Gordon Hilton of Strathmore, a true conservationist.

Hilton was definitely counter-cultural when he began advocating for no-till farming in the 1960s, back when summerfallow ruled. He was one of the first farmers in Alberta to see continuous cropping as a way of preventing soil and wind erosion, and began experimenting with seed drill modifications in the 1970s to further his efforts. In 1980, he brought one of the first no-till drills to Western Canada.

Farmers of the day took great pride in their clean, black summerfallow fields, and Hilton was often dismissed for his radical approach. But you couldn’t argue with his enthusiasm, as he took his road show promoting conservation farming across western Canada. He helped found the Alberta Conservation Tillage Society, and pushed for policy changes in government thinking on the traditional practices.

When you look around the countryside today, and see how direct seeding and minimum tillage have become industry standards in Western Canada, you can see the impact Hilton had, showing things didn’t always have to be done as they were before.

Also inducted this year was Dr. Mohyuddin Mirza, a visionary scientist whose practical research has helped Alberta establish a thriving greenhouse industry. Over more than three decades of dedication, his work at Alberta Agriculture helped develop hydroponics as an economic and stable way to grow greenhouse crops. In fact, the industry has blossomed from a $25-million-a-year business in 1980 to over $160 million annually today.

His work also led to new opportunities for growing forestry seedlings in the province, and he helped set up the Alberta Greenhouse Growers Association. But if you ask folks like the Doef family with their greenhouse operation near Lacombe, they’ll tell you Dr. Mirza is best known as a friend to growers, always accessible, always teaching, always helping.

In the dairy world across Canada, there’s one name almost everyone recognizes. And now Curtis Clark has earned a place among agriculture’s leaders as a member of the Hall of Fame.

Clark is described as a passionate and tireless promoter of the dairy industry for nearly five decades. The co-founder of the famous Acme Holsteins herd was renowned for his livestock management and his judging abilities.

While he’s most known for Holsteins, Clark actually started his long show ring career at the halter of purebred Percheron heavy horses.

That’s where he ran across Lloyd Pickard, and the Acme Holsteins operation at Carstairs was created by the two partners.

It became one of the most travelled and recognized show herds in the country, which is quite something considering transportation then was done by train. The championships piled up, and continued when the partnership changed to include Clark’s son Jim.

But Curtis Clark was active far beyond the show ring, putting time in for countless industry and community groups. He left a great legacy behind when he passed away in 1997 at the age of 86. His reputation and dedication are still recognized today, with several prestigious dairy awards named in his honor.

Agriculture Minister Verlyn Olson made the presentations in Edmonton, welcoming the new inductees into the esteemed company of the now 126 members of the Agriculture Hall of Fame. He noted how they all were able to overcome challenges, and showcase an innovative spirit; as he thanked the trio, and their families, for what they’ve done to inspire in agriculture.

Speaking of the dairy show ring, volunteers and exhibitors will bring the Westerner Championship Dairy Showcase to town this week. There’s a junior show — the Jersey Show — on Friday night, a Holstein sale Friday afternoon, and the Holstein show all day Saturday.

Dairy cattle have always been an important element of the agriculture program for Red Deer’s fair organization, and volunteers work hard to keep that tradition alive.

Another “field stop” for me over the past month was the Canadian Supreme. Growing up on a ranch where horses were used regularly to work with cattle, it’s a favorite type of horse show for me because you get to see talented western horses that can read cattle as they work with them.

One of my favorite stories this year was Suzon Schaal, who chalked up another win on her great Genuine Brown Gal in the Non Pro Bridle class. The two have teamed up for five world championships, but the Calgary rider and veterinarian points out the mare was initially terrified of cattle. It took a slow and patient approach for her to turn a horse that many had given up on into a top-notch performer.

There’s just never a shortage of interesting people to spur us on from the farm and ranch world.

Dianne Finstad is a veteran broadcaster and reporter who has covered agricultural news in Central Alberta for more than 30 years. From the Field appears monthly in the Advocate.

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