Prairie crop fertilizer pioneer John Harapiak, 73

Funeral services will be held Friday in Calgary for Prairie agronomist John Harapiak, credited by many in the ag industry as spearheading the development of the fertilizer application and placement techniques growers use today.

Harapiak died Jan. 14 in Calgary following a “hard-fought” eight-year battle with prostate cancer, according to his obituary in the Calgary Herald.

“Whether it was introducing new and innovative concepts on fertilizer management, supporting graduate student research, or championing change in fertilizer management to increase efficiency and profitability, John Harapiak was on the leading edge throughout his career,” the International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI) said this week in a tribute on its website.

“His contributions to Northern Great Plains agriculture have influenced all farmers in the region.”

Raised at Swan River, Man., in a family with eight siblings including former Manitoba agriculture ministers Len Harapiak and Rosann Wowchuk, he studied agriculture at the University of Saskatchewan and went to work for Cominco.

Harapiak started work at Western Co-operative Fertilizers (Westco) in 1966 and there, as summarized in his obituary, “began to establish himself as a leader in the study of fertilizer use and placement for the Prairie farmer.”

Harapiak is hailed by IPNI as a champion of research which “clearly demonstrated in-soil banding fertilizer was a far more efficient means of meeting crop nutrient requirements in the semi-arid and sub humid regions.”

Harapiak, the IPNI noted, was also an early proponent of the use of air seeders for simultaneously fertilizing and seeding in dryland cropping regions.

He also worked to clarify the seed safety limits for urea and MAP fertilizers on common Prairie crops, which led to research evaluating seedbed utilization with air seeders.

Also while at Westco, he helped sponsor the first research on applying anhydrous ammonia in zero-till seeding and set up the criteria for anhydrous application at seeding.

Training program

Harapiak, the IPNI noted, also helped encourage the introduction of the Certified Crop Advisor program on the Prairies in the face of “declining support for rural extension” in the region.

“Working with other agronomists from government and industry, John not only helped develop the program for Western Canada, but led the largest training program of staff” with Westco, IPNI said.

According to his obituary, Harapiak was diagnosed with cancer in 1993 but underwent experimental treatments in Calgary which were credited with warding off many of the disease’s symptoms.

At the tail-end of the dotcom boom in 2000, he joined Calgary-based AgriPlace as chief agronomic officer for what was billed as the first full-service agricultural e-commerce hub.

The company, in announcing his appointment, credited Harapiak’s work in developing fertilizer application techniques as creating millions of dollars in annual cost savings for the Prairies’ farmers.

Harapiak led the company’s efforts to deliver agronomic advice online before it was caught up in the dotcom crash and declared insolvent the following year. He went on to work as a well-regarded consultant in the Prairie ag industry.

Services for Harapiak will be held Friday (Jan. 21) at Southview Alliance Church, 1436 James McKevitt Rd. SW in Calgary, starting at 1 p.m.

Donations in his memory, in lieu of flowers, can be made by cheque to the Foundation for Seniors’ Care, c/o Southwood Hospice, 211 Heritage Dr. SE, Calgary, T2H 1M9. The foundation supports further education for caregivers.

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