Inducted November 18th, 2014
Ken Stevenson was born in 1937 to Clarence and Grace (Ball) Stevenson. He was raised on the family farm on Pollard Line in Tilbury East Township, Kent County, near Merlin. Ken attended Cooper Public School (SS #3 Middle), Tilbury East Township, and then the Merlin District High School. He received his post-secondary education at the Western Ontario Agricultural School, receiving his diploma in 1958. He went on to graduate from the Ontario Agricultural College, University of Toronto, with a BSA (Agronomy) in 1961, and from the University of Guelph with a MSc (Soil Science) in 1965.
Ken is married to Eleanor (Powell), originally from the Merlin area, and they have four grown children: James (Sue English), Diane (Paul McGary), Nancy (Sean Tout), and John (Sarah Galaski). They have eight grandchildren: Laura, Megan, Paige, Alexander, Kellie, Ashley, Benjamin and Jake.
Ken was employed for 35 years from 1961 to 1996 with the Western Ontario Agricultural School, later renamed the Ridgetown College of Agricultural Technology as a Lecturer and Researcher in Soils and Soil Management.
Ken was particular in his work, ensuring what he did was done precisely in any research project. He was also an expert in statistics and designed his experiments to ensure the experimental design was right for the experiment and the statistical analysis was done correctly. He repeated the treatments in his experiments four to six times over a number of locations and several years, on different soils and in different climatic conditions.
Ken’s goal was to supply soil management information to farmers so they were only applying the fertilizer they needed and were not over applying fertilizer. His experiments involved assessing the most economic rates of Nitrogen (N), Phosphate (P2O5) and Potash (K20) required to grow the most profitable yields of corn, soybeans and wheat.
Ken taught various soil courses over the years, including Introductory Soils, Soil Conservation, Soil Management, and Fertilizer Production and Use. Ken was passionate about his teaching, making sure the students left the college with a good understanding of the soil, and how to be good stewards of the land and the environment.
Soil Management Research took up a lot of Ken’s time and effort. The research focused on determining the nutrient requirements of corn, soybeans and winter wheat. This involved conducting field trials with farmer co-operators in Essex, Kent, Lambton, Middlesex and Elgin Counties. The research was usually conducted for a minimum of 3 years for a particular project before conclusions were made.
The greatest amount of Ken’s time was spent studying Nitrogen including how much to apply, what method of application to use, when was the most advantageous time to apply, as well as comparing various nitrogen materials.
To confirm that very high yields were possible, Ken embarked on Maximum Yield Research (MYR) experiments from 1982 – 1986 with corn and soybeans, resulting in yields of close to 300 bu/ac for corn and 100 bu/ac for soybeans. Factors researched in the experiments were hybrid or variety selection, plant populations, rates of plant nutrients, and irrigation. He also ran long term fertility experiments with Phosphate (P205) and Potash (K20) rates on corn and soybeans that were conducted up to 10 years on the same plot. This data, even though some is 30 – 40 years old, is still being used by researchers to help understand the interaction of Phosphate (P205) and Potash (K20) levels in the soil and the rates of phosphate and potash that the crop requires.
Ken was also involved in the assessment of a Nitrogen soil test taken in the spring, which tracked the movement of nitrogen deep into the soil that could be lost to the ground water or tile drains. He also studied nitrogen rates required to grow winter wheat and spent most of his career researching the effect of nitrogen rates, and the timing of its application on corn, as the genetics, planting technology, tillage practices, and fertilizer application technology changed.
Injecting liquid nitrogen solutions and anhydrous ammonia into corn before planting and into standing corn with the typical knife injector, is difficult with more trash on the soil surface. With the increased popularity of no-till and reduced tillage over the years, there were new challenges planting corn into trash. Ken was involved in helping develop and test new systems for corn planters to deal with the trash and strip till a narrow zone in front of each planter unit. He tested numerous technologies on planters including various coulter combinations to cut through the trash, and trash wipers to push the trash away from the planting unit’s path. By doing the testing in research plots, the equipment’s effectiveness was proven by the time it reached the farmer. This technology tested in the 1980’s and 90’s is commonplace on planters today.
Ken was an innovator when it came to research, helping to spearhead the use of computers to analyze data at Ridgetown in the 1970’s. He was one of the first researchers in the area to use a plot combine to harvest research plots. This introduced new electronics that reduced the labour required for the harvesting operation and also allowed for faster harvesting of research plots. As technology improved, Ken was always one to try what was new. In the 1980’s, he purchased a small Massey-Ferguson plot combine that had an onboard palm top computer to weigh and moisture test the crop as it was being harvested. He also tested a number of products to slow down the break-down of ammonia fertilizers to make the nitrogen available close to the crop’s peak requirement and thus reduce losses of nitrogen from the soil.
With the closing of Centralia College, Ken took over the management of the Huron Research Station near Exeter, travelling there weekly, particularly in the busy planting and harvesting season. He now looked after the operation of a 150 acre research farm, testing primarily edible beans, canola, rutabagas, soybeans, corn and forages. He still continued with his crop fertility work at Ridgetown until his retirement in 1996.
The farming community has benefited from Ken’s research and advice to use the most profitable rates of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium to produce crops, and soil management practices for optimum crop growth and minimum soil degradation.
Ken was a well-respected researcher both nationally and internationally, and spoke at numerous conferences in Canada and the USA as well as travelling to The People’s Republic of China to help guide them in experimental techniques. He wrote many research papers, reports, Fact Sheets and some Best Management Practices booklets.
The high point of Ken’s career was the Maximum Yield Research project. It was sponsored by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, the Potash and Phosphate Institute, and the Fertilizer Institute of Ontario. His expertise resulted in his being in demand as a speaker on the topic in the United States as well as abroad.
In 1988, he participated in the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) Canada/China Agronomy Program when he and a colleague presented lectures on various topics on soils and fertilizers to Soils and Fertilizer Institutes in Beijing, Nanning, Kunming, and Guangzhou in the People’s Republic of China.
In 1990, Ken presented a paper at a Maximum Yield Research Symposium at the International Congress of Soil Science meetings in Kyoto, Japan, where soil scientists from around the world participated.
In 1991, he and a colleague participated in the Foundation for International Training sponsored mission to Auhui Province, People’s Republic of China, to evaluate soil and water conservation issues, and access human resources training needs to develop a strategy for human resources development.
In 2004, Ken received an “Honourary Companion of the University of Guelph” award, which was presented by the Chancellor Lincoln Alexander.
Ken is a member of the Ontario Institute of Professional Agrologists, South West Agricultural Professionals, Agricultural Institute of Canada, Canadian Society of Soil Science, American Society of Agronomy, and Soil Science Society of America.
In the community, Ken was a very dedicated volunteer in the Ridgetown Minor Hockey Association, serving as coach, manager and convenor for over 20 years. He also volunteered with the Ridgetown Figure Skating Club, and the Ridgetown Minor Baseball Association. He is a very active member of Erie Street United Church, serving on the Board in various capacities, and is a very dedicated and active member of his choir serving for over 50 years. Ken is a member of the Kent Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society, and volunteers with the Chatham-Kent Branch of Orchestra London, which brings concerts to Chatham. He also serves on the Chatham-Kent Committee of Adjustment.
To his fellows, Ken “gets overlooked, yet is a soldier in the trenches”, “is a valuable asset to agriculture locally, across Canada and internationally”, “a top notch kind of guy”.