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Published March 25, 2014, 10:27 AM

Today is the 100th birthday of an ag giant

It’s Norman Borlaug’s birthday today, and the Nobel laurel scientist is being remembered in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere with respect and admiration.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

It’s Norman Borlaug’s birthday today, and the Nobel laurel scientist is being remembered in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere with respect and admiration.

Agweek talked with several Upper Midwest residents with personal and professional memories of Borlaug.

Kevin Kephart, vice president of research at South Dakota State University, heard Borlaug speak several times when Kephart was in graduate school.

“He had extraordinary accomplishments,” ones that current and future ag researchers need to build on, Kephart says.

Norman Borlaug, born March 25, 1914, on a farm near Cresco, Iowa, developed high-yielding wheat. He’s credited with helping to spark the so-called “Green Revolution” that saved more than 1 billion people from starvation. He died Sept. 12, 2009.

To honor his birthday, a bronze statue of Borlaug is being placed today in the National Statuary Hall of the U.S. Capitol.

David Borlaug, whose grandfather was Norman Borlaug’s cousin, had planned to attend the ceremony, but was prevented from traveling while recuperating from minor surgery.

“We’re incredibly proud of him,” says David Borlaug, president of the Lewis & Clark Fort Mandan Foundation in Washburn, N.D.

“We (members of David Borlaug’s immediate family) conversed with him a number of times through the years. He was a very humble man, just a good old Iowa boy,” Borlaug says.

Borlaug’s current position often brings him into contact with “gifted, highly educated people. When I introduce myself to them, that’s the first question they ask — if I’m related to him. They certainly know who Dr. Norman Borlaug is,” he says.

David Borlaug remembers riding home from school in 1970 and ABC News announcing on the radio that Norman was receiving the Nobel prize.

Borlaug also remembers traveling to Washington, D.C., in 2007 and watching Norman receive the Congressional Gold Medal, America’s highest civilian award.

Work in Mexico

Norman Borlaug, who as a boy hoped to become a high school science teacher and athletic coach, earned a doctorate in plant pathology at the University of Minnesota in 1942. He spent much of his career in Mexico, working to improve seeds and agronomic practices. He was the first in the field at the sunrise and the last to leave at sunset, according to published reports.

He told his team of scientists that, “Impact on farmers’ fields, not learned publications, is the measure by which we will judge the value of our work,” according to the reports. Borlaug began his work in Mexico in 1942, and Mexican wheat yields increased fivefold within 12 years.

Later, he worked with the Mexico-based International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center to boost food production in developing countries around the world.

Mohamed Mergoum, now spring wheat breeder at North Dakota State University, once worked with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center and knew Borlaug.

“He was an extraordinary man indeed,” Mergoum says in an email. Mergoum was out of the country when contacted by Agweek for comment. Kephart notes that some of Borlaug’s work drew on research conducted earlier in South Dakota.

Borlaug’s work, in turn, will be built on by current and future ag researchers, he says.

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