Celebrating Lotta’s legion of loyal supporters: Dr. Vernon Burrows, OC (1930-2020)

Canadian plant breeder, Dr. Vernon Burrows, died peacefully in Ottawa on November 8, 2020.

He achieved world renown for his research on oats and was a pioneer in developing hull-less, “naked” oat varieties.

He was also a big fan of Dr. Lotta Hitschmanova, who inspired him when he first heard her giving a talk in the 1970s at the Unitarian church in Ottawa.

A year after Lotta’s death in 1990, he honoured her by naming a naked oat variety he had developed: AC Lotta!

“In the early 1970s, I had the privilege of sitting in an audience to listen to Dr Lotta Hitschmanova deliver an appeal for help to service some of the Unitarian Service Committee’s projects in places like Korea and India. She told us she was buying USA cooked barley and sending it overseas to help feed needy people. After the address, I asked her why she was not sending good Canadian oats which were more nutritious than barley. She said she would be delighted to receive samples of dehulled oats for testing and at that point we entered into a working relationship. She learned from her workers in Korea that oats were satisfactory for taste but they would prefer to receive cooked barley because of the high costs of energy for dehulling and cooking. Since Lotta could not buy cooked oats to send overseas, our oat project was terminated.

“However, from this brief encounter with this great lady, I stood in awe of her dedication and sincerity to help the underprivileged. It was then that I promised myself that if I could, through my hands, produce an oat for people in Third World countries that they could eat like rice, I would do so. That opportunity I believe is now possible because of the kind of oats we are now breeding routinely in Canada. I think it would be fitting if the first oat to be available for evaluation would carry the name LOTTA.”

In recognition of his lifetime achievements, Dr. Burrows was appointed a member of the Order of Canada (CM) in 2001 and was promoted to become an officer (OC) in 2019.

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