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Remembering John Harapiak

John Harapiak dedicated a good part of his working career to improving farmer knowledge on fertilizer placement. It’s a topic that may

never earn much space in history books, but thousands of Prairie farmers can thank John for the relative peace of mind they have each spring, to go out and place seed and band fertilizer in a one-pass, direct-seeding operation.

The practice of fall or spring banding of fertilizer as part of a direct seeding system may seem pretty common place to many farmers today. But, not that long ago, it was a standard recommendation for farmers to work the soil two or three times until it was mellow, place your fertilizer (particularly anhydrous ammonia fertilizer) three to four inches deep, and then wait seven to 10 days before seeding to reduce the risk of crop injury.

Harapiak, who spent most of his career as an agronomist with Western Co-operative Fertilizers Limited — later known as Westco and now Viterra — challenged that long-standing practice in research trials, and began championing the theory that fertilizer could be banded to the side of or below the seed at time of seeding without adversely affecting germination or damaging the seedlings.

Harapiak died Jan. 14, 2011, after a relatively long battle with cancer. He was remembered by family and friends at a funeral service in Calgary, January 21. He was 73.

Long-time work colleague and friend Norm Flore noted that Harapiak who was passionate about agriculture, still enjoyed a good philosophical debate on agronomic issues until just a few weeks before his death.

Harapiak was born on the family mixed farm at Cowan in north-central Manitoba in 1937. He attended school there and later got his Bachelor of Science and his Master of Science in Agriculture, majoring in soil science, from the University of Saskatchewan.

He joined Western Co-operative Fertilizers Limited in 1966, as an agronomist and later became chief agronomist, continuing with the company until 1999, when he retired after 33 years of service to pursue other interests. He remained close to the agriculture industry as a writer and a consultant until his death.

Flore, now manager of agronomy services with Viterra, was a colleague and friend of Harapiak for more than 30 years.

“We made a great team,” says Flore. “He was the visionary, the man with ideas and I polished those ideas and carried out the implementation in the field. We conducted hundreds of research trials every year across Western Canada. In our planning, John would say, ‘Lets do a trial on this and this and this,’ and I would set it up. And then he would share the findings of that research with the research community, with the extension community and with farmers. Farmers were always ‘the customers’ we worked for and he never lost sight of that.”

Flore says Harapiak wasn’t afraid to challenge traditional practices and had the determination to ignore the critics.

“He had a great insight into what people needed,” says Flore. “A lot of his concepts involved a non-conventional approach to fertilizer management and sometimes drew a lot of skepticism in the industry. But he had the tenacity to push through with those ideas and many came to fruition. His concept of in-soil banding of fertilizer as a far more efficient means of meeting crop nutrient requirements was probably one of his most notable projects, and that lead to many other advances in fertilizer management, as well.”

In his work using anhydrous ammonia placement in a no-till seeding system, Harapiak worked with the machinery industry to develop an NH3 detection kit for field evaluation of NH3 placement and established criteria for use of NH3 at seeding. He was also interested in grain quality as a means of increasing farmer profitability. This led to extensive research and guidelines on post-emergent applications of nitrogen on spring wheat to secure higher grain protein and premiums for producers.

Other areas of his research led to development of guidelines for safe application of seed row urea in cereal crops; improved soil test calibration; contributed to methods and benefits of deep banding nitrogen alone or in combination with phosphate; developed fertilizer management concepts for malting barley; developed recommendations for sulphur and boron in canola; studied the impact of chloride on root diseases in annual crops; and looked at effective use of fertilizer on forage crops, to name a few.

Harapiak was also instrumental in developing the Certified Crop Adviser program, which is now used across Western Canada to certify private agronomy consultants.

During his career, Harapiak was a member of many professional and scientific associations and received a number of awards including being named Distinguished Agrologist by the Alberta Institute of Agrologists, the WFCD Honourary Member Award by the Western Fertilizer and Chemical Dealers Association, and being named an AIC Fellow by the Agricultural Institute of Canada.

LeeHartisafieldeditorforGrainewsin Calgary.Contacthimat403-592-1964orby emailat [email protected]

About the author

Field Editor

Lee Hart

Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in Calgary.



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