An icon in soil fertility work in Western Canada has been lost with the passing of John T. Harapiak of Calgary, best known for his many years at Westco Fertilizers.
John spent his early years at Cowan, Man., and after high school spent a few years on the railroad and then entered the College of Agriculture, University of Saskatchewan and graduated with a B.S.A. degree in 1963, majoring in soil science. It was then straight to grad school to obtain an M. Sc. in soil science. We were grad students together and that is where I first appreciated his dedication and persistence. His thesis topic was solonetzic soils and the 35 mm slides and large profile samples he took still serve for teaching purposes at U of S.
I have a very clear memory of John picking me up about 6 a.m. on a September morning in 1964 to go to the Kerrobert/Kindersley area to gather large soil profile samples. The characteristic round-top structure was what he was after and he made sure he got the best. We were in an old IHC panel truck that shook like mad if we went too fast — a built in governor.
After grad school John joined the fertilizer industry when it was in its infancy in the Prairies. At Westco he managed a field soil fertility program that made huge advances in knowledge to benefit farmers.
I have a clear picture of John at the front of Quance Theater at the U of S in the late 70s presenting his data on the fall-banding of urea. Ammonium nitrate was falling out of favor for manufacturing reasons and broadcast urea was a problem. John soon proved that the method of application was the problem, not the urea itself. His main statement was “the difference in crop yield between banding and broadcast urea is enough to pay for the fertilizer.”
The Westco research was better than our university research because a uniform series of field experiments was conducted over a wide range of conditions in all three Prairie Provinces and over a few years. He also had permanent trained technical people to conduct the field work. It was better than the Feds because most Fed work is on research stations that have few soil fertility problems and have a host of historical practices that can interfere with soil fertility.
John’s work on seed-placed and side-band placement of N for canola and other crops was another major contribution of his. He not only did the work but made sure it was summarized and interpreted to the benefit of farmers. As I remember it, John was instrumental in devising the concept of seed bed utilization in interpreting seed placed fertilizer effects.
John not only did the work but made sure it was communicated to the farm gate — where it mattered. His Westco Forum contributions to farm papers brought summaries of relevant research data he had gathered over many years.
Then, in the mid 90s the concept of Certified Crop Advisors (CCA) began. John embraced the concept and was instrumental in organizing intensive training sessions for all the companies associated with Westco Fertilizers. It was my great pleasure to be asked by John
to assist with the instruction and to work with him and Norm Flore. Staff in the retail business have more contact with farmers than university or government types and providing them with more knowledge was an important step, and John was in the lead.
Dedication, integrity and sincerity were what John was all about. He battled cancer for a decade or more and bounced back several times to continue contributing to the knowledge base of soil fertility and fertilizers. His detailed columns in farm magazines included excerpts of the voluminous data he had gathered at Westco.
It was a thrill to have known and worked with John Harapiak for the past 45 years and we will miss him greatly. Well done, good and faithful servant.
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