Pulse Legacy Award - PulsePoint
August 17, 2018
Bill Copeland, a pioneer in lentil production and pulse processing in Saskatchewan
When it comes to the history of lentil development in the province of Saskatchewan, there is one name that pops up in conversations often — Bill Copeland. From farmer, to seed grower, to pulse processor, Bill Copeland has had a hand in the growth of the pulse industry in Saskatchewan from the beginning. It was for these reasons that Bill was recently recognized with the Pulse Legacy Award by Saskatchewan Pulse Growers, during the Pulse and Special Crops Convention in Regina.
Copeland was born and raised in Rosetown, Saskatchewan and went on to earn a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture degree from the University of Saskatchewan (U of S) in 1960. He married his wife Alma Kingwell and returned home to the Rosetown area to farm full-time.
He maintained contact with the U of S, in particular with Crop Development Centre plant breeder Dr. Al Slinkard, who is best known for developing the Laird and Eston varieties of lentils. That university connection influenced Copeland, as he began experimenting with crop rotations which included growing large green lentils.
Bill Copeland remembers why they decided to grow lentils. “During the time we started growing lentils the Canadian Wheat Board was barely selling grain. We could not live on that money, so we looked for an alternative.” Bill and Alma knew that lentils grew well on the land which they had, could handle dry weather, did not need a lot of fertilizer to grow, and that lentils had markets they could be sold into if money was needed.
“Dad was an entrepreneur and always thinking outside the box — he gave me lots to learn,” says son Bob Copeland, who farms with his father at Copeland Farms and Copeland Seeds. “There were not many people growing lentils at that time, just a lot of wheat and barley. My dad saw lentils as an added element to marketing the farm.”
Bob notes that at the time, it seemed like a lot of his dad’s ideas were adding extra work to the farm but looking back, what his father did was about being better as a farmer, and as an individual — constantly pushing himself to do something a little bit different to be better.
“Early pioneers in the pulse crop industry, such as Bill Copeland, really laid the foundation for the whole industry to develop and flourish as it has,” says SPG Chair, Corey Loessin. “Not only on the production side, but also on the processing and marketing sides — Copelands have been leaders and innovators for the pulse industry. It is what has really allowed so many other growers to benefit from growing pulse crops in their rotations.”
Bill continued to support crop research in Saskatchewan, and has provided his land free of charge to the U of S to seed test plots and conduct research into new crops. He established the Copeland Prize in Crop Science at the College of Agriculture at the U of S, to help students in the crop science option. For all of his contributions to research, he had a malting barley, CDC Copeland, named after him. While Bill spent time convincing growers to adopt lentils as part of their rotations, Alma worked on recipes incorporating lentils, to try and get people to eat this new healthy food growing in their fields.
Over the years Bill Copeland has added pedigreed seed grower and pulse processor to his list of farming duties, which gave rise to Copeland Seeds. Being one of the first growers in Saskatchewan to process lentils and other special crops in preparation for export to other countries, was the beginning of what is now a booming industry in the province.
“When I first started working with pulses, I never could imagine how this would grow over the years,” says Bill Copeland. “To see how much the industry has expanded, and how the size of acres has grown, is tremendous. When we started growing lentils we knew nothing about the industry.” Bill commended the tremendous amount of research on pulses that have made the growth possible.
These days Bill and Alma, along with son Bob and Pam Copeland, continue to operate the family business together, and they have expanded their crop rotation to include durum wheat, barley, canola, lentils, and soybeans. Outside of the farm Bill has served as councilor in the Rural Municipality of Monet, has participated on local health and recreation boards in the Elrose area, has been inducted into the Saskatchewan Agriculture Hall of Fame, and participated as a farmer representative on the Senior Grain Transportation Committee for many years.
“It feels good to have my dad recognized for his efforts,” says Bob. “When you see someone that has dedicated their time to the industry, it is good to see him recognized. This is well deserved and I am very proud.”
When asked what advice Bill would give to Saskatchewan producers and the pulse industry, he replies, “Grow whatever pulses are good in your area. Keep a good crop rotation to help fight disease. Keep investing in research to help put pulses in more foods.”