Famed wheat breeder Barrie Campbell passes

Barrie Campbell, whose namesake variety AC Barrie still makes up an important part of Prairie wheat acreage, passed away in Winnipeg July 16 at age 89.

When Campbell retired in 1988 after 39 years as a wheat breeder at the Agriculture Canada research station in Winnipeg, his varieties accounted for more than 70 per cent of the red spring wheat acres in Western Canada.

During his career, Campbell registered nine wheat varieties, including Manitou, Pembina, Benito, Canthatch, Columbus, Napayo, Katepwa, Roblin, and Neepawa, the latter one of the most successful varieties ever. In 1987, it replaced the long-standing Marquis as the quality standard for all new varieties to meet for registration in Western Canada.

In an interview with the Manitoba Co-operator’s Allan Dawson in 1993, Campbell said that he came close to throwing out Neepawa before it reached the co-op testing trials. "I thought it might be too good to throw away and took another look. It was borderline. Sometimes there is only one chance, and if it didn’t make it, it’s dead."

Ron DePauw, the preeminent Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada wheat breeder who developed AC Barrie, has high praise for Campbell. "It was an outstanding contribution that Barrie made over the years," he said from the Swift Current research station July 30. "He contributed tremendously to benefit Western Canadian agriculture. To this day Neepawa is still resistant to stem rust."

AC Barrie, registered in 1993, was named to not only honour Campbell’s work, but also to recognize that three of Campbell’s varieties — Neepawa, Columbus and BW90 — are part of AC Barrie’s lineage. It was a fitting tribute. AC Barrie dominated western Canadian wheat acres for 10 years and was one of the most popular varieties in Manitoba for even longer. Between 2000 and 2002 AC Barrie accounted for more than 50 per cent of Manitoba’s red spring wheat acres, falling to a third of them from 2003 to 2006. It wasn’t until 2009 that Kane replaced AC Barrie as the most popular wheat variety in Manitoba.

Campbell and his Agriculture Canada colleagues also helped Western farmers by developing wheats resistant to stem rust, DePauw said. "There has not been any significant stem rust losses on wheat in Canada and that’s really the function of the work that people like Barrie Campbell and (others) did way back in the ’50s and ’60s. We’ve been able to maintain it but the foundation was really laid by those scientists during that time period."

The son of a Court of Queen’s Bench judge in Winnipeg, Campbell said he had no driving ambition to be a plant breeder. "I sort of drifted into it," he said.

Campbell graduated in agriculture at the University of Manitoba in 1944, earning a master’s degree from the same university in 1948 and a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota in 1954. He was appointed senior plant breeder the same year, holding the position until his retirement.

Campbell was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1989 and received an honorary degree of Doctor of Science from the University of Manitoba in 1992.

He is survived by his wife Mavis, daughter Pat MacCrimmon and granddaughters Penny and Andrea. At his request, no service was held.

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