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Greta Thunberg, tearless onions and fond farewells

Hart Attacks: All kinds of people and messages make a difference

I’m writing this column on election day, so it is too early for me to comment if it was either a good, bad or surprising election result. I am just glad it is over. I have often thought the real winners in any federal, provincial or even municipal election are the paper companies.

First they get to supply the paper for well, thought-out, carefully crafted and tastefully designed brochures, pamphlets and election platform books which probably very few people read. And then after the election they get to supply paper for all the new letterhead and business cards for the newly elected representatives. With the comings and goings of elected government members there must be tonnes of paper that goes out one door into recycling, while newly printed material comes in another. Good money in paper. Let’s keep growing those trees!

Greta’s following

Greta Thunberg.
photo: European Union/Wikimedia Commons

And on that slight environmental note, the Swedish teenage environmental activist Greta Thunberg has just completed a tour of Alberta, with her compelling and often emotional message that the world is ending. If we don’t stop using fossil fuels, we will soon be incinerated by climate change. (Yes, I am greatly over stating her message).

I am not sure I totally agree with her message or how it is presented. Yes, the world does need to look after the environment — I have often heard it said that human’s are the only animal species that knowingly destroys its own habitat.

What does impress me about Thunberg is the power she produces. From a nobody Swedish kid a little more than a year ago, she has mobilized a very vocal, millions-strong army of supporters around the world, and sat with world leaders to advocate her environmental message.

She might be the media flavour-of-the-month and disappear from the headlines as quickly as she appeared, but it just goes to confirm that one average person can have an impact. You get the proper cause and catch media attention and then hold onto your hat.

Nothing to cry about

And speaking of people who make a difference, here is one guy who will likely never be a household name, but under his watch at BASF he has brought to market a product that could improve the quality of life for just about anyone who has ever prepared a meal in a home kitchen. The product? The tearless onion.

His name is Lyndon Johnson and he is head of onion seed sales for BASF. First of all who knew that BASF, the multibillion dollar corporation, established nearly 150 years ago as a diversified chemical company even had a vegetable seed division? Well they do.

And Johnson, as crop sales manager, onion seeds, introduced to part of the U.S. market last year the tearless onion. No more tears when you are peeling and slicing onions. The variety is sold under the brand name Sunions. You can learn more on the product website at: iheartsunions.com.

Johnson didn’t actually develop the onion. As he explained to ag media attending an information day at BASF North American headquarters in Durham, North Carolina earlier this fall, BASF bought the long-established Nunhems vegetable seed company in 2018. And one new product ready for market testing was the tearless onion.

The onion breeder at Nunhems had been working on breeding a tearless onion for nearly 30 years. As Johnson explained, new vegetable varieties just don’t fall off the turnip truck. While breeding wheat and canola varieties takes time too, it takes about 10 years to develop a new lettuce variety, 15 years to develop watermelon and 25 years for a crop such as asparagus. Onions are in that 25 to 30 year range too.

After a whole breeding-career lifetime working on a tearless onion and extensive field testing, Sunions were finally released to the Pacific northwest growers and marketplace — Idaho, Washington and Oregon — in 2018.

It is a fairly large, sweet, hybrid that really improves with age — storage age that is. The longer it is in storage the more tearless it becomes. Apparently it has the same great, sweet onion taste — you could almost eat it like an apple — but with proper storage it won’t produce tears when peeled and sliced. Johnson says they were almost going to call it the “date night onion,” but apparently it still has an albeit reduced but somewhat of a negative impact on your breath, so they limited the claim to tearless.

Former field editor passes

David Bates.
photo: GFM/File

And on a more personal note about people to be remembered, a slightly older generation of western Canadian farmers who were subscribers of Country Guide magazine at some point over the past 40 years might well remember the name of long-time field editor David Bates. Dave passed away in Calgary in late September after a lengthy illness. He was 74.

I’ve been with Grainews for about 16 years but before that I started in the ag writing business in 1988 with Country Guide, with at least part of the credit going to Dave Bates. He was managing editor of Country Guide in Winnipeg in those days, and largely responsible for recruiting bright, young talent to fill a vacancy in Calgary. He must not have read my resume very closely — I got the job.

Dave was born and raised in Ontario. Attended the University of Guelph. Joined Country Guide working as western field editor based in Calgary from 1974 to 1986, then was managing editor in Winnipeg from 1986 to 1991.

In 1991 he and wife Teresa moved back to Calgary where Dave worked in the communications department of Alberta Wheat Pool which lasted until the old co-operative system of grain companies began to reorganize itself. And later he worked as a freelance writer and photographer for the advertising agency Fieldstone Marketing.

During his field editor days with Guide, if you were grain, beef, dairy or hog producer in Western Canada you might very well have seen Dave Bates in your yard as he came to learn about and report on what you were doing. Not only a capable writer, but just a nice, gentle, personable individual.

He always had plenty of solid advice for me back in the day, when I was really a hard working writer. One of the most important messages was, “there is time to work, but don’t forget to stop and smell the roses once in a while.”

So far no one in management has rescinded that order, so believe me I’m all about roses any chance I get.

About the author

Field Editor

Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in Calgary.

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