Passionate to the End

October 5, 2009 04:54 PM

Norman Borlaug was eager to communicate with America's farmers when I arranged an interview with him in late 1990. He wanted to talk, and talking with him came easy. When I visited his modest office at Texas A&M University, he stressed his background, growing up on a farm near Cresco, Iowa, descended from Norwegian immigrants. It was clear he would have been perfectly happy farming himself if fate had not pushed him in another direction.

It was 20 years after he won the Nobel Peace Prize recognizing his groundbreaking, high-yielding, disease-resistant dwarf wheats, credited with preventing famine in developing nations and saving millions of people from starvation.

On that day in College Station, the father of the Green Revolution was already 76 years old, but Borlaug was not giving up his work–his life's mission. He was still traveling, still teaching farmers and politicians and anyone who would listen.

Billy Graham, the evangelist, once said, "God never retired anyone." That seemed to be Borlaug's creed.

Norman Borlaug died Sept. 12 at the age of 95. He continued his evangelism for high-tech agriculture almost until the end. He firmly believed that reducing hunger would increase peace.

Feed the World. Borlaug was a compact man, soft-spoken, who chose his words carefully. There was no doubt that he felt he was tapped to do something important, that it had come down to him to help feed the world. The increasing world population worried him. By 2025, he said, food production would have to at least double just to feed all the hungry mouths out there.

He wanted to something about it, and he did. By 1990, he was pushing for high-tech ag in Africa, where people most need it, he said. He was irritated by what he called ill-informed people who criticized him for emphasizing chemical fertilizers and pesticides and for changing Third World cultures. He also supported the promise of biotech.

In 2000, he addressed these issues when he spoke to the Nobel Institute on the 30th anniversary of his winning the Peace Prize. "I often ask the critics of modern agricul-tural technology what the world would have been like without the technological advances that have occurred," he said.

Norman Borlaug, the Iowa farm boy who changed the world and did his best to feed all its people, did a great thing. The life he lived teaches another great thing. His passion for his calling never ended and he kept at it as long as he could. May that be a lesson to us all.

Quick Facts
> Born: March 25, 1914
> Hometown: Cresco, Iowa
> Family life: Married, two children
> College degrees: B.S. forestry, 1937; M.S. plant pathology, 1940; Ph.D. plant pathology, 1942, all from University of Minnesota
> College sport: wrestling
> Honorary degrees: agriculture, agricultural science, humanity, law, from more than three dozen institutions around the world
> Honors: Nobel Peace Prize,  1970; Presidential Medal of Freedom, 1977; Altruistic Green Revolution Award (India), 1998;  Rotary International Award for World Understanding and Peace, 2002; Award for Distinguished Achievements to Science and Medicine, American Council on Science and Health, 2003;  Dedication of Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture, Texas A&M University, 2006; Congressional Gold Medal, 2006

Top Producer, October 2009

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