Keith Downey earned a world-wide reputation for his contribution toward converting the Cinderella crop, rapeseed, into canola, now considered a leading source of vegetable oil for human consumption. This crop, once grown on the Prairies for an industrial oil, now rivals wheat as a leading money-maker for Saskatchewan farmers.
Born in Saskatoon in 1927, Keith Downey earned his BSA and MSc. at the University of Saskatchewan and his PhD at Cornell University . In 1952 he was appointed head of alfalfa breeding at Agriculture Canada 's Lethbridge Research Station. He was co-developer of the alfalfa variety, Beaver.
In 1958 he transferred to the Saskatoon Research Station to direct the oilseed breeding program. He became the breeder or co-breeder of 13 rapeseed/canola varieties and five condiment mustard varieties, many of which dominated the Canadian production area. He was a leader in the drive to develop rapeseed varieties with low ratios of potentially harmful erucic acid and glucosinolates. When this objective was achieved, he sought earlier maturing varieties with higher oil content. In recent years he has been involved in developing improved canola varieties through genetic engineering.
The quality of his contribution was soon recognized. In 1963 he received the American Oil Chemists' medal for work on the biosynthesis of rapeseed fatty acids. In 1973 the Grindley medal was presented to him by the Agricultural Institute of Canada for contributions to agriculture. Then, in 1975, he shared the prestigious Royal Bank Award with Dr. Baldur Stefansson of the University of Manitoba for their success in rapeseed breeding.
Keith was named an officer of the Order of Canada in 1976, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1979, a Fellow of the AIC, an honorary life member of the Canadian Seed Growers Association and of the Saskatchewan Rapeseed Association. He received an honorary Doctor of Science degree from the University of Saskatchewan in 1994 and the Eminent Scientist Award at the Ninth International Rapeseed Congress in 1995.
He served a term as president of the Saskatchewan Institute of Agrologists and of the Canadian Society of Agronomy.
Keith's expertise has been in demand around the world. He has been on technical aid and fact-finding missions to Chile , Japan , Spain , Poland , Italy , France , Holland , United Kingdom , Hong Kong , Singapore , the Philippines , Algeria , Germany , Egypt , Pakistan , Ethiopia , China and India . At present he manages brassica oilseed improvement programs in both China and India .
He retired in 1993 but continues his research and as adjunct Professor of Crop Science at the University of Saskatchewan .