How the Blue Book came to be

The arrival of metric-only labels frustrated one Alberta farmer, who happened to be the ag minister

How the Blue Book came to be
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Editor’s note: News that the four crop commissions are taking over publication of the Blue Book (a.k.a. the Crop Protection Guide) prompted former agriculture minister Marvin Moore to send in the following history of how the province came to publish the annual guide.

In 1970, the Liberal Government of Canada led by Pierre Trudeau decided that Canada should go metric.

By 1975, farmers were faced with converting land measurement to hectares, having chemicals measured in litres and spraying with kilopascals instead of pounds of pressure. The farm chemical companies followed federal instructions and started giving chemical spraying information labels to farmers in metric only.

I was appointed Alberta Minister of Agriculture in the spring of 1975. The next year in late June, I was home on a weekend trying to spray some newly seeded crop with information on the label all in metric.

We had been spraying for years in fluid ounces of chemical per acre with generally 40 pounds of pressure and always on an acre. How do you convert all of this, especially hectares to acres then fluid ounces to litres and what is a kilopascal?

I went back to Edmonton on a Monday morning and met with my Deputy Minister, Dr. Jim O’Donoghue.

I said to Jim, I just had the most difficult time trying to spray chemicals with all this metric information, the worst being hectares and converting from acres. I suggested to him that we should take all the chemical companies’ info and convert it to acres and pounds of pressure, and put it into a book for farmers to use. (We had already been using metric measurement of liquids and that was actually better than fluid ounces as everything was in tens, so we did not need to change that.)

Dr. O’Donoghue went back to senior staff in the Department of Agriculture with my idea.

A couple of weeks later they reported that it would not be possible as the Federal Government had mandated the metric system and chemical companies would be reluctant to provide information for a book using parts of the old system and against Federal instructions.

Remember this was before the internet and cellphones, so the only information you had was what was on the label. You had to do all the conversions yourself.

I said to Dr. O’Donoghue, we need to print the book and if some chemical companies don’t want to be in they will be left out. I said it will only take a few years and they will all be in, and the federal government is not going to win the war of converting all farmers to metric.

The Deputy Minister agreed and arrangements were made to publish the first book the next year.

I said it should have a blue cover.

Why blue? The PC Party under Peter Lougheed had only been in office since 1971 and we were still trying to replace some of the green Social Credit colour slogan with blaze orange or blue — which were our colours.

So this is why 43 years later you have a Blue Book in print and on the internet — all because of one frustrated farmer from DeBolt who happened to be Minister of Agriculture in 1976, and only had a Grade 12 education and could not figure out how many acres were in a hectare or what a kilopascal was.

And that is how the Alberta Agriculture Blue Book got started.

Happy Spraying,
Marv Moore

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