Four decades of protein testing method improvements: Dr. Phil Williams enters the Ag Hall of Fame

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From October 1965 to March 2002, Dr. Phil Williams worked at the Canadian Grain Commission’s Grain Research Laboratory.

Needless to say, Williams had a significant impact on the Canadian wheat industry over those four decades.

In 1970, he was appointed as the first chemist-in-charge of protein testing and organized the testing and monitoring procedure for the CGC/Canadian Wheat Board.

“In the mid- to late-1960s, just after I came to Canada, the Canadian Wheat Board was having a bit of trouble from the United States and Australia, because they were offering wheat that had a guaranteed protein content, and we weren’t doing that,” says Williams.

Williams made great strides throughout his career in improving protein testing methods  starting with a modification to total nitrogen and protein content for grains, seeds, and derived commodities, before the method was changed in 1996. He also developed a non-toxic catalyst that enabled the CGC to dispense with the required mercuric oxide disposal, which enabled the design of the Thunder Bay and Winnipeg testing facilities.

After getting a memorandum that he would be in charge of protein testing, Williams asked if he could change the method. Hearing about near-infrared reflectance spectroscopy, Williams decided to give it a try, as it would be fast enough and accurate enough to process enormous quantities of samples.

“If you look at your fingernail, I don’t know what they look like, but there’ll be a spectrum, and if you look at that with the right spectroscopy, you’ll see shade, and wheat has a shade, and protein has certain areas, so we monitored those areas,” Williams says about the NIRS technology.

Williams introduced NIRS technology to Canada for use in testing western CWRS wheat for protein and moisture contents, and the tech has been in use ever since, not only in labs, but also in on-the-spot testing at grain elevators since 1976.

The 2021 hall of fame induction ceremony is slated to be held in Winnipeg this fall.

Williams joined RealAg Radio host Shaun Haney to talk about his career and his induction into the Canadian Ag Hall of Fame:

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