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Pest Patrol: Thank you, Dr. Clarence Swanton

#PestPatrol with Mike Cowbrough, OMAFRA

“Matty Cowlick” is indifferent to the recent retirement of Dr. Clarence Swanton, weed scientist in the department of plant agriculture at the University of Guelph. But I’m happy for him.

I’m happy that Clarence will continue with his research program and to advise graduate students, and happy that he will have more time to spend with his wife, children and grandson on their farm, as well as more time to travel. The only thing that I’m saddened by is that he will no longer be teaching classes at the University of Guelph, leading the fourth-year “Crop Tour” and the Ontario Agriculture College (OAC) “weeds team.”

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Clarence was my favourite lecturer in undergrad. I didn’t necessarily agree with everything he had to say in class but he was engaging, he challenged conventional thinking and he loved a good debate. He provided a venue for critical thinking and I appreciated that. Near the end of my time in his undergraduate weed science course, he mentioned that he was recruiting students to compete in the “Weed Olympics.” Like many aggies enrolled in crop science, I wanted to be on the team.

That year, our undergraduate teams won first and second place, with the top three individual awards all going to University of Guelph students. This was expected, since it had been the trend for several years, and two decades later, the trend continues. I wish there was a list somewhere of all the University of Guelph grads who have competed in the OAC weeds team under Clarence’s guidance. It would include many impressive names involved in Ontario agriculture today.

Clarence started his career with the Campbell Soup Company, and later as a weed biologist with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food (Ridgetown College). In 1985 he joined the University of Guelph as a faculty member, and was promoted to full professor in 1996. Clarence served as the first chair of the department of plant agriculture from 1998 to 2004, and was president of the Canadian Weed Science Society from 2007 to 2008. He has received numerous awards including the Outstanding Canadian in Crop Protection (2013) and the Weed Science Society of America’s Outstanding Researcher Award (2002) and in 2011 he was elected to the Waterford District High School Hall of Fame.

I’ve known Clarence for over 22 years and our relationship has evolved. Early on in undergrad he called me Matt, and I would joke with my classmates that he probably thought my name was Matty Cowlick. I’ve since come to realize that for all his strengths, it just takes him a few times to remember names, which given all the people he comes in contact with, is understandable. Looking back, I don’t think Clarence was a big fan of the 20-something version of me. In fairness to him, the current middle-aged me would not have been a big fan of that guy either. Now I’m grateful for our chats about our small farms and being involved in research projects with him, one of the most recent ones being located in Norfolk County where Clarence spent his formative years.

Congratulations, Clarence, on your career so far and for what is to come.

Have a question you want answered? Hashtag #PestPatrol on Twitter to @cowbrough or email Mike at [email protected].

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