Dr. Richard Keith Downey

Throughout his career, Richard Keith Downey has been a leader in the conversion of some Brassica species into nutritionally superior sources of vegetable oils and meals. This has shifted Canada from a 90 per cent importer of edible vegetable oils to a net exporter, based on canola production.

In screening the world’s germplasm of rapeseed, Keith Downey of Agriculture Canada and Baldur Stefansson of the University of Manitoba found low erucic acid strains, which they bred with ordinary rapeseed to make cultivars with superior properties for salad and cooking oils.

Keith Downey and students at Saskatoon studied inheritance of erucic acids in rapeseed and developed novel techniques for testing and growing desirable plants using a “half seed technique.” In order to propagate sufficient seed to expand the crop, Dr. Downey convinced Agriculture Canada to contract winter production in California. Within two years this resulted in seed for conversion of four million acres of Canadian production to low erucic acid rapeseed.

Still, anti-nutritional factors called glucosinolates contained in rapeseed severely limited markets for oil and meal. Using techniques from the National Research Council to measure such factors, Dr. Downey and collaborators identified low glucosinolate plants. Through innovative plant breeding, Keith Downey and colleagues converted both species of rapeseed into crops with reduced levels of both the naturally occurring erucic acid and glucosinolates. The resultant crops have been designated “double-low” or “Canola” quality crops.

Through another winter seed increase managed by Dr. Downey, some five million acres of the Canadian rapeseed crop was converted to “Canola quality” by about 1980. Today, production of Canola comes from up to 14 million acres in Canada. Early cultivars have been successively replaced by superior varieties bred by Keith Downey to allow full exploitation of Canada’s canola industry. Further, Dr. Downey initiated collaboration between Agriculture Canada and industry partners to develop herbicide tolerant varieties.

In all, Keith Downey is the breeder or co-breeder of 13 rapeseed/canola cultivars, five condiment mustards and one alfalfa variety. He has shared his expertise in oilseed improvement with missions to Pakistan, India, Ethiopia, Chile, Argentina, Poland, Egypt and Australia.

Among the many honours bestowed on Keith Downey are: Officer of the Order of Canada, Clark-Newman Award of the Canadian Seed Growers Association and the Eminent Scientist Award of the 9th International Rapeseed Congress. Dr. Downey was inducted into the Saskatchewan Agricultural Hall of Fame in 1996. Dr. Keith Downey has earned a place in the Canadian Agricultural Hall of Fame.

Nominated By:
  • Canola Council of Canada