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Published April 13, 2024

Plant expert, Nobel Prize winner attends reception

As long as people keep eating, they will need folks like Norman Borlaug.

In 1970, Borlaug received the Nobel Peace Prize for his countless efforts in plant breeding. His work is credited with saving millions of lives around the world by producing higher-yielding, disease-resisting crops in poor growing conditions.

Borlaug, a University alumnus, spoke to approximately 400 University students, parents, faculty and donors at an annual scholarship reception for the College of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences. The reception was held at the Earle Brown Continuing Education Center on Friday.

More than 200 awards divided from approximately $700,000 in scholarship gifts from 65 donors were awarded to students at the event.

Charles Muscoplat, College of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences dean, said the college was fortunate to draw home the distinguished alumnus, even if it was only for a short visit.

“I’ve known him for many years Ö but here at a student event for the students and parents to see is a red-letter deal,” Muscoplat said. “We’re proud to call him our own.”

Borlaug, 88, spoke of a healthy future in agriculture as long as people have a need for food.

When Borlaug was born, 1.6 billion people populated the Earth. Now with more than 6 billion, Borlaug knows the world is up against a tough test of over-popularization, malnutrition and disease.

With more stomachs to fill than at any other time in Earth’s history, the question remains: How will people find food with so many to share it with?

“We’re adding to the world population every year,” Borlaug said. “The sad part is that most of that population growth is in countries least capable of supplying the basic needs.”

Calling Borlaug a “pacesetter” in the industry for his work in plant genetics and food production, University agronomy and plant genetics professor Ron Phillips said Borlaug’s international zeal influences every agriculturally-minded person.

More than 30 years after receiving one of the world’s highest honors, Phillips said, “He’s just as strong and wanting to make this his real mark on the world, and that’s just inspiring.”

A farm boy from Cresco, Iowa, Borlaug traveled 10 miles north to the Minnesota-Iowa border and began attending the University in 1933.

Borlaug was one of the first students to enroll in the University’s General College. He originally pursued a bachelor’s degree in forestry but took a plant pathology course that altered his career path from forests to struggling third-world countries. Borlaug also wrestled for the University from 1935-37.

Borlaug said he left school temporarily to work with the forest service to earn enough money to re-enroll at the University.

Borlaug said it was nice to be back at the institution where “it all started.”

“Go for the stars, reach for the stars. You’ll never reach the stars, but if you stretch yourself enough, you can get some stardust on your hands,” he said.

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