Elmer Stobbe was born and raised on a small farm near Abbottsford, British Columbia. He graduated from the University of British Columbia and Oregon State University, then went on to be a professor and agronomist at the University of Manitoba for 27 years. Elmer was married to Wilma for 56 years and together had three children Sandra, Colin and Russel, who the family lost at eight years of age. It was through his faith that Elmer was able to lead his family and students through that difficult time.
Credited as the “grandfather” of zero-tilling, Elmer’s pioneering roles in crop management, weed control, seed production and grain intercropping made him a leader in “sustainable farming” practises, even before the term was invented. It was through his formation of, and extensive research with, the Manitoba-North Dakota Zero-Tillage Farmers Association (ManDak), that Elmer was instrumental in introducing Winter Wheat production to Manitoba utilizing techniques he developed. And, through his efforts and vision, the integral relocation of the University of Manitoba research station to Carman and the establishment of the Ian N. Morrison Research Farm, was realized.
His contributions to and passion for agriculture extended beyond professional practise as he had a lifelong appetite for learning, teaching and helping others. Two and a half years of his life was spent in Kenya developing zero-tilling cropping practises for the benefit of local communities. It was here that Elmer had the idea to use the Mennonite Central Committee’s International Volunteer Exchange Program to bring young Africans, from the country of Lesotho, who were interested in farming, to North America for work experience and training. It was through these interactions with Lesotho farmers that Elmer could impart practical skills to empower them. Elmer saw great potential in many people he came across, even working closely with one man to create an NGO called Basotho Building Lesotho designed to significantly enhance agricultural development in that country. Throughout his retirement and until his death, he continued to raise funds for the project and remained in touch, on a weekly basis, with the director.
Elmer had a deep connection to people from all walks of life. His students, however, were benefactors of his knowledge, expertise and teachings the most. While traveling to research facilities, Elmer’s students profited from hours of his famous “windshield talks.” He has been described as a champion, visionary, listener, encourager, teacher, mentor and friend. Elmer viewed his academic role as a responsibility to, not only teach, but to prepare students for their future success in agriculture, always inspiring them to think at a higher level.