Canada lost one of its leading experts on canola agronomy in mid-June with the sudden death of Phil Thomas, a retired but former long-time oilseed specialist with Alberta Agriculture in Lacombe, Alta.
Thomas, who was known not only in Canada but in many parts of the world as Mr. Canola, literally wrote the book on canola production, being the primary author of the Canola Growers Manual, which was published in the early 1980s.
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.
Born in Lacombe County north of Red Deer, Thomas graduated from the Olds College agricultural program and later completed his degrees at the University of Alberta.
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.
As an agrologist and internationally recognized expert in canola, he was a member of the Alberta Agricultural Hall of Fame for his role as an educator, extension worker, radio commentator, supervisor, author, researcher, consultant and lifelong learner.
He not only shared his knowledge with farmers and professional agrologists across Canada but also growers in other parts of the world. His work and volunteer efforts took him to Australia, China, India, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Poland, South Africa and Sri Lanka as a scientific advisor, guest lecturer, seminar leader and sought-after speaker.
After retiring from Alberta Agriculture, Thomas went on to serve for another 17 years as a consultant and senior agri-coach with Agri-Trend Agrology.
Rob Saik, founder and president of 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.”
Thomas died unexpectedly, but in peace, on June 13, 2020, at the age of 76. He is survived by his wife, Eleanor; children, Darren (Sorcha) and Lenora (Rick); granddaughters, Niamh and Áine; his brothers, Percy Jr. (Marilyn), Harry (Donna), Doug and Mike (Debbie); sister-in-law Gwen; and many nieces, nephews and their children. He was predeceased by his parents and his brother Tom.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations can be made to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada at heartandstroke.ca or the charity of your choice.
Following a private family funeral service, Thomas was interred in the Gilby Cemetery beside his parents. A wake in celebration of his life will be scheduled after COVID-19.