Howard, Dr. Ronald

2008 Winner: Innovation In Agricultural Science Sponsored By Dow AgroSciences Canada Inc.

Keeping The Food Supply Abundant And Safe

As consumers, we tend to take the food on our plates for granted. We can do so because researchers like Dr. Ronald Howard work in their labs and in farmers’ fields protecting crops from pests such as weeds, insects and diseases.

“One of the eternal challenges to crop producers is plant diseases,” Dr. Howard says. “We try to give growers up-to-date information so they can cope with crop diseases to minimize losses in yield and quality.”

Understanding Disease

For the past 33 years Dr. Howard has worked as a plant pathologist, researcher and manager at the Alberta Crop Diversification Centre South (CDCS). During that time he has studied about 50 different types of crops and the diseases that plague them.  Whether it’s tomatoes, potatoes or grains, Dr. Howard has the ability to work with producers to help them to understand the diseases that affect their crops and how to manage them.

“My goal is to try to answer the questions that are at the top of the producers’ minds,” Dr. Howard explains. “What is this disease? Where did it come from? What can we do about it?”  In his quest to answer these questions, Dr. Howard collaborates with colleagues in provincial and federal research stations, university faculties, private sector companies and consultants, and teams of agriculture producers.  “My role is to study disease issues to contribute to the overall body of knowledge on pest management strategies for crops,” he says.

Tireless Work

The CDCS’s mandate to bring crops from around the world to Alberta to test their adaptability keeps Dr. Howard busy. Out of their element, the plants may fall prey to a disease or bring new diseases to the region. Alberta already grows a large variety of crops; and producers continually introduce new methods of farming. All of these challenges offer Dr. Howard fertile ground for research ideas.  Not only does he discover new plant diseases, he finds ways to protect crops against them.

Dr. Howard is also an ambassador, sharing his findings with producers, researchers, extension specialists and academics around the world. He has written publications and made presentations numbering over 1,000 in his career, and has advised post-graduate students and visiting scientists from across Canada and in China.  He also spearheaded the construction of a new $16-million research greenhouse facility at CDCS, the most modern in Canada.

“We will be able to conduct leading-edge research as a result of this legacy facility,” he says. “I hope my scientific contributions will help produce healthier food crops for Alberta consumers and beyond,” says Dr. Howard, who is anticipating retirement. “And hopefully healthy plants will help to keep Alberta’s crop industry strong and competitive in the future.”