By Forrest Scharf (PAg) Provincial Specialist, Fruit Crops
Rick Sawatzky officially retired from the University of Saskatchewan in February, 2018 after working for the Department of Plant Sciences (and its horticultural predecessors) for more than 46 years. In many ways, Rick’s storied past corresponds with the rise of the fruit industry in Saskatchewan. Rick started working at the University of Saskatchewan at a young age, and had the pleasure of working with early fruit breeding pioneers like Dr. Cecil Patterson, Dr. Stewart (Stu) Nelson and Dr. Cecil Stushnoff. Dr. Stushnoff and Rick were also responsible for collecting Dr. Les Kerr’s sour cherry germplasm in 1983 and bringing it to the University of Saskatchewan.
For a number of years (roughly 1989 to 1999), Rick maintained the fruit breeding initiative on his own. He got guidance from Dr. Cecil Stushnoff (who had moved to Colorado State University by that time) and a few others regarding the best plant genetics to cross to achieve long-term progress in fruit quality. His efforts resulted in a good body of high–quality, cold-hardy fruit germplasm. Selections were made from his seedling orchards to serve the needs of the fruit industry throughout the Prairies, as well as in other regions throughout Canada.
Dr. Bob Bors took over the University of Saskatchewan Fruit Program in 1999 and has continued the university’s fruit breeding efforts (with Rick) since that time. With the superior selections of dwarf sour cherries, the rise of haskap as a new “superfruit” for Canada and royalty money from plant sales flowing into the Fruit Program has become stronger than ever.
Rick's contributions to growers have been significant; aside from breeding and propagating apples, cherries, hazelnuts and other fruit crops, he has also provided workshops teaching growers budding and grafting techniques. His great sense of humour will be missed at the University of Saskatchewan, but he plans to continue contributing to the industry in various ways.
He was presented with a new laptop computer at his retirement lunch, and many fruit industry luminaries were present to wish him well. The industry looks forward to his continued leadership.