I am sorry to report this morning on the sudden passing yesterday of Phil Thomas who was known not only in Alberta, but across Western Canada and many parts of the world as Mr. Canola.
Thomas, who devoted more than 50 years of his professional career to agricultural research and extension services, for the
majority of that time was the “go to” guy in all aspects of canola production and agronomy. It was reported that Phil died from a stroke. He was 77.
Thomas worked with Alberta Agriculture for 34 years, first serving as a district agriculturist in Taber, Sangudo and Vermilion for about 10 years before taking over in 1977 as supervisor of oilseed crops — including a new, novel, developed-in-Canada specialty crop called canola. He was there when the crop was first introduced and went on to become a leading expert on growing canola.
He not only shared his knowledge with farmers and professional agrologists across Canada but also growers in other parts of the world include China and former Soviet Union.
After retiring from Alberta Agriculture, Thomas went onto serve for another 17 years as a consultant and senior Agri-Coach with Agri-Trend Agrology.
Rob Saik, founder and president of the Agri-Trend Agrology was among dozens of farmers and colleagues to pay tribute to Thomas on Facebook.
“Through his time with Alberta Agriculture and then with Agri-Trend, Phil helped to train hundreds of agronomists and helped thousands of farmers in our industry,” said Saik.
“He was always kind, I never heard him say a bad thing about anyone and he loved to be in the field passing on his wisdom…some of my best memories are of him training our Network.
We just lost a treasure that will be greatly missed.”
FIRST MET IN 1988
On a personal note I first met Phil Thomas back in about 1988 when I was a new field editor for Country Guide Magazine. Often I travelled to the Alberta Agriculture office in Lacombe to talk to Phil about this new crop, canola. Phil had his office and right next door was Murray McLelland, Alberta Agriculture’s cereal crop specialist and between these two guys I could learn more about crop production than I ever needed to know, certainly way more than I ever remembered.
Phil was always friendly and personable and helpful – never even flinched at what were probably many dumb questions. And aside from phone calls and office visits, over the years we connected at perhaps dozens of meetings at field days, conferences, Canola Updates and other events.
Thomas was part of what could have been an agriculture extension street gang. I’d be at some event and there was Phil Thomas, Elston Solberg, Ieuan Evans, Mike Dolinski, Doug Penny — all leading former Alberta Agriculture agronomy specialists— talk about a Rogue’s Gallery, talk about a wealth of knowledge and experience.
Phil Thomas will be missed, not only for the contribution he made to the agriculture industry, but just because he was what you can call a very decent human being.
Lee Hart is a field editor with Grainews based in Calgary. Contact him at 403-592-1964 or by email at [email protected]