A tribute to soil testing innovators: 100 years ago, on a farm outside Wolseley, SK, Dr. Stanley A. Barber was born… 


Standing on the Shoulders of Giants


The metaphor of dwarfs 
standing on the shoulders of giants (Latinnanos gigantum humeris insidentes) expresses the meaning of "discovering truth by building on previous discoveries". This concept has been traced to the 12th century, attributed to Bernard of Chartres. Its most familiar expression in English is by Isaac Newton in 1675: "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants." (Wikipedia)


Within the Western Ag realm of thinking, we have one such giant. The year 2021 has some significance to Western Ag and the farm customers using our PRS® Technology. On March 29th, Dr. Stan Barber would have turned 100. Who is Stan Barber? He is a prairie farm boy whose research efforts enlightened the ag industry on crop nutrition. His research also provided the knowledge keystone on soil-nutrient and plant interactions that drive the PRS CropCaster®.


Dr. Barber, while doing his MSc. at the University of Saskatchewan in 1947, was part of a world’s first experiment. His research was the first to use radio labelled P32 phosphate to observe and measure nutrient movement through the soil to plant roots, into the root and then up into the plant. Dr. Barber went on to be a professor at Purdue University where he continued this research for 30 years.  Much of his work, compiled in the book “Soil Nutrient Bioavailability, A Mechanistic Approach”, became the go to text book for graduate level soil fertility classes.



Because of the ground breaking research conducted by Dr. Barber and others, plant nutrient behaviour could be measured under different circumstances. For those who are familiar with the research applications, “it reduces the need for conducting numerous crop-fertilization experiments to gain information about each crop-soil combination” (Barber, 1995). When you understand the mechanism of how things work, there isn’t the need for such effort in trial and error. However, this is not to say ground truthing isn’t necessary as models do need to be tested and new/different circumstances need to be assessed. Be it through trial site reconnaissance or site characterization, research efforts and dollars (farmer check off dollars) are better directed.



On the farm, you too benefit from “site reconnaissance and site characterization”. By using the PRS CropCaster, you know all about putting the right crop on the right field and how to feed that crop to meet its potential. However, as powerful a tool as the CropCaster is, it is your Western Ag Professional Agronomy Consultant (PAC) that drives the CropCaster with you to identify the risks and opportunities in your crops. We are getting pretty close to seeding now. If you have any changes to your crop plans, please contact your PAC and they will work up a new CropCast for you.

So, this is to take a moment to recognize Dr. Barber’s contributions in understanding the environment we work in and with that understanding, to be better stewards of that environment.


From all of us at Western Ag, we wish you a safe and productive seeding season.


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