A Century of Soybeans: Scientific Research and Mixed Farming in Agricultural Southern Ontario, 1881-1983
This thesis is an investigation of the history of scientific field crop agriculture in Ontario from 1881 to 1983, with soybeans as the case study crop. Four chronological time periods, each with different economic, social, environmental and social challenges, are identified. In each period, the introduction and development of soybeans from an exotic curiosity to a commodity of major economic and agronomic importance coincided with significant changes in mixed farming. During the first period (1881 to 1925), scientists and educated farmers improved soybeans, and the first variety was registered and released in Canada. In the second period (1925 to the late 1930s), discourse and activity among plant breeders, educated farmers, processors and politicians failed to overcome economic and environmental challenges to replacing more familiar field crops with soybeans, and acreages remained small. The third period (late 1930s to the early 1950s) encompassed World War II, when a shortage of oilseeds stimulated the demand for soybeans. Producers responded by organizing the Ontario Soya-Bean Growers’ Marketing Board and joining the Ontario Crop Improvement Association. Specialized agricultural scientists applied plant physiology and molecular biology to weed control and breeding. During the fourth period (1950s to 1983), soybean acreages increased: in the 1960s, high-yielding varieties with disease resistance were widely planted in southwestern Ontario and the northern USA. By the 1970s, short-season varieties with tolerance to low temperatures spread through eastern Ontario. Research and experiment were part of a public and private sector network of co-operation and support between farmers and scientists, as both groups renegotiated the complex relationship between field crop agriculture and Ontario’s environment. Improvements were achieved by scientists at public institutions and freely communicated through extension programs. Farmers used recommendations as guidelines to increase efficiency on their own farms. With the post-war period, agribusiness became the context in which crop production occurred. This included private seed companies, which exploited public research to market improved seeds and supporting products as profitable business. In 1983, King Agro released a soybean variety, shifting the balance of research and production from public to private enterprise, and signalling the end of mixed farming in Ontario.