A pioneering cereal chemist, Dr. Phil Williams developed innovative technology that revolutionized the Canadian cereal industry’s ability to accurately measure and compensate Canadian producers for wheat protein. An internationally recognized authority on near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) and transmittance (NIT) technology, Phil created numerous technologies that continue to be used around the world throughout his more than 40-year career in public service.
Born in Wales, Phil began his Canadian career, and lifelong contributions to the agriculture industry, with the Canadian Grain Commission in Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1965. As the chemist in charge of protein testing, he was the first in the world to use NIRS technology to test wheat for protein and moisture content industrially—a move that led to the wheat segregation program used in Canada.
His NIRS technology resulted in protein testing of Canadian Western Red Spring Wheat (CWRS) at port terminals during train-unload—a system used in Canada since 1975.
This process was later extended to country elevators, simplifying the segregation of wheat by protein content, and ensuring producers were paid for the protein of the grain they delivered. As the world authority on NIRS and NIT, Phil worked with others to translate this practical technology to a diversity of applications, leaving a lasting impact on Canadian and international agriculture.
The ultimate adoption of NIRS for protein testing of Canada’s multi-billion-dollar CWRS wheat industry brought international credibility to NIRS, and to Phil’s work—a testament to his foresight, persistence and determination. A special honour of his life’s work came with the naming of AC Phil—a namesake wheat variety recognizing his contributions.
Phil’s international influence included an invitation by the International Development Research Centre to recommend tests to assist maize and wheat breeders in Mexico, on behalf of the World Health Organization, and his long-standing participation in the International Centre for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas at Aleppo, Syria.
When Phil retired from the Canadian Grain Commission, he adapted his NIRS technology to the hog industry to analyze liquid manure nutrients as they were pumped out of hog barn lagoons. This technology eliminated the need for sampling and ensured excessive nutrients were not applied to areas of a field.
A role model, mentor and dedicated scientist, Phil has garnered well-earned recognition with awards from various organizations and countries including a Fellow of the International Council for Near-infrared Spectroscopy and an award from the American Association of Cereal Chemists International that is now the Phil Williams Award in Applied Research.
Known for his warmth and willingness to share knowledge, Dr. Phil Williams transformed wheat production in Canada for the benefit of the entire value chain with his NIRS technology.