Sunday, December 10, 2023

There’s so much more to be done: Agricultural meteorologist receives Order of Ontario for his scientific achievements

Not all paths in life are known, for some, it takes learning about something to truly be passionate about it. This rings true for Raymond Desjardins, an accomplished agricultural meteorologist who came to love the field through his ability to positively impact the industry.
“I would say that I’ve never worked a day in my life,” said Desjardins. “Because we work trying to advance science and I don’t consider this work at all.”
Over the years Desjardins has done research and developed techniques to measure greenhouse gasses and contribute to understanding how the agricultural industry impacts climate change. On October 24 he received the Order of Ontario for his contributions and achievements for over 55 years of work in this field.
“I always think that’s one way to promote what we try to do. If somebody gets an award for something, they think, ‘Oh, it must be good’. It’s about promoting the importance of climate change, to me that’s the main reason. I’m glad when I get recognized because it gives me a platform to talk about this issue,” said Desjardins.
He believes everyone plays a role in improving the climate and through his work, he hopes to make people more aware, he explaied.
Born and raised on his family farm in Carlsbad Springs, Ontario, Desjardins didn’t know it then but his childhood would influence what he went on to study. He was the first one in his village to get out of his small town and get educated in the city. He worked hard for what he wanted and although he didn’t feel like the smartest kid in his class, his persistence led to his success.
After graduating high school, he studied physics for his undergraduate degree and went on to do a masters in agricultural meteorology which was influenced by his upbringing on the farm. He got interested in the research aspect of things rather than becoming a weather forecaster, he explained. As an agricultural meteorologist, he looks at how the weather impacts agriculture.
After his program, he interned with Agriculture Canada and ended up working for them for over 50 years at the Central Experimental Farm. During the first 15 years of his career, he developed techniques to measure how much carbon dioxide was absorbed by crops. He was the first to develop an instrument that used an aircraft to measure how fast crops grow which got him invited to work with NASA on different projects. It was called the “model farm” and it was to quantify what happens on a farm scale.
Some of his other achievements include developing techniques for quantifying the impact of terrestrial ecosystems on climate change and the impact of climate change on those ecosystems. Desjardins is also an internationally recognized expert in research and analysis of climate change and variability and its impact on agriculture.
In 1972 after having met his wife and getting married, the couple moved to Luskville and have lived in the home they built since then. THE EQUITY talked to his wife who stated that he was passionate about the work he did and to see him get recognized for his hard work was nice.
“I was really happy for him because he’s worked really hard,” said Anne Desjardins.
His wife is a major part of his life, she stood by him all throughout his career. Desjardins said if it wasn’t for him failing eighth grade he would have never met her.
“She was in her first year in science and I was in my last year and I would have never met her otherwise. So if it seems bad, It might not be as bad as you think,” he said.

Sitting down and reflecting on his career he highlighted that the encouragement he got from mentors or bosses along the way guided him to take opportunities when they came. His first boss for instance was the one who encouraged him to get into the field of agricultural meteorology.
Desjardins added that he owes his success to luck and being in the right place at the right time. “I consider myself very lucky, I work hard, but I’m not the smartest person in the world. If I had retired when I had 35 years of service, I would not have done as much as I’ve done now because in my last 20 years I’ve been very productive and worked in a smarter way than I had before,” he said.
As he got older he felt he gained more experience and took more strides, and said if only he could start again with what he knew now.
He believes his contributions were not only geared toward farmers but also toward consumers. When people know how their choices impact climate change it is then that people can start making informed decisions. Knowing which foods produce the highest carbon footprint, for instance, can help consumers reduce their emissions with the food they choose.
Working in this field for many years he observed that the growing season is much longer compared to what it was a few years ago. For instance, after September farmers sometimes experience a big frost. Another aspect he pointed to was today’s farmers have machinery that allow them to do things faster. So although there have been changes it is not all bad or good, stated Desjardins.
For Desjardins he didn’t have any big goals when he first entered the field, he was mostly looking for a good job. But as time went on his ambitions grew and his passion for the field did so as well.
“Once you learn something more and you feel you can contribute you become passionate if you work hard, and I must confess that I am a hard worker. But I was not passionate for the first year or two when I started working. Now I feel I can contribute something beyond what is known and that becomes a lot more interesting,” he said. “That’s what science is all about.”
Along with some of the research he did he also has some published work. “Better farming, better air” is a project that began in 2000 and took about seven years to complete and is one he’s very proud of. It is made for a diverse reading audience, including agricultural researchers, policymakers, environmentalists, and the general public. It is a reader-friendly book to inform people of climate change and its impact. They also developed a greenhouse gas calculator that is still being used to this day by farmers.
As a scientist, something he learned along the way was that trying to do something alone is tough. So for him being in this industry taught him the importance of teamwork and working collaboratively with people from different disciplines.
Being in this field nothing surprised him, but what did was the possibility to create change in this industry. “There are so many possibilities of things that could be done better.”
Desjardins retired in May 2020 and although he doesn’t work full-time anymore he is still collaborating with colleagues or writing papers. He says that’s because “if it’s not published it doesn’t count.”
An idea that he is currently writing a paper on is to measure how much water crops use to grow. He is developing a technique to be able to calculate those measurements.
He is also working on researching solar radiation management, some new practices farmers are doing and how that can help. Another thing is looking at some of the data collected through their aircraft project with NASA that hasn’t been published, he mentioned they only went through half that data.
In his downtime, he enjoys curling, which he hopes to get back to, gardening, helping his wife around the house and walking along the river behind his home.
When asked what kept him researching and developing in his field for this long he said: “I feel like I contributed and the problem is a serious one, and there’s so much to be done.”

Raymond Desjardins and his wife, Anne Desjardins in their Luskville home.
In 2008 he was awarded by the government for his significant contributions on the intergovernmental panel on climate change. 2007 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.


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