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At Texas A&M Borlaug honored with endowed chair

Monsanto has donated $2.5 million to Texas A&M University to fund the Borlaug-Monsanto Chair for Plant Breeding and International Crop Improvement. The chair is named in honor of Norman Borlaug who won the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize for his work in plant breeding.

The endowment was announced by Robert Fraley, chief technology officer for Monsanto, at a reception at the Beltwide Cotton Conferences. Julie Borlaug, associate manager for donor relations at the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture at Texas A&M, accepted the honor on behalf of her grandfather.

“As father of the ‘Green Revolution,’ Borlaug taught the world how to use agricultural technology to save lives and improve living conditions,” said Fraley, a member of the Monsanto team that developed the first genetically engineered corn and soybean plants.

“Plant breeding was the engine for this tremendous change. We are honored to work with Borlaug and Texas A&M University to promote additional plant breeding research that will help farmers produce food, fiber and fuel to meet growing world demand.”

Borlaug, who was ill and unable to attend the announcement, sent a letter to Fraley that was read by Julie Borlaug.

“I am very humbled and grateful for Monsanto's generous endowment in my name,” he said. “I appreciate your emphasis on the importance of plant breeding and crop improvement as well as the fellowships that will benefit many young cotton breeders. Monsanto's partnership with Texas A&M will have a lasting impact on the agriculture industry.”

Fraley said he had had several telephone conversations with Borlaug, a strong supporter of the use of biotechnology to improve world food production, over the years.

“He never fails to ask questions about the latest developments in our work at Monsanto and on biotechnology,” said Fraley. “It's obvious he has followed the development of biotechnology very closely.”

In his letter, Borlaug said he wanted to thank Monsanto for its commitment to helping bring innovative agricultural technology to farmers in developing nations.

“Your ‘New Monsanto Pledge’ in 2000, which promised to ‘dedicate resources and share information that will bring advanced knowledge, practices and products to the people who need them most’ has made a significant impact to small-scale farmers in Africa.”

Officials at Texas A&M pledged to make the chair count in its efforts to continue to develop technology advances that will improve the lives of farmers around the United States and the rest of the world.

“We consider this a tremendous opportunity to continue Dr. Borlaug's legacy,” said Elsa Murano, vice chancellor and dean of agriculture at Texas A&M. “This will enhance our academic programs enormously, and it will make significant contributions to science through its research capabilities.”

“This wonderful gift from Monsanto will enable the Borlaug Institute, Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Texas Agricultural Experiment Station and Texas Cooperative Extension to realize the vision of Dr. Borlaug for world service in agricultural science,” said Edwin Price, associate vice chancellor and director of the Norman E. Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture at Texas A&M.

Of the $2.5 million endowment, $2 million will be used to fund the Borlaug-Monsanto Chair. Borlaug is a distinguished professor of international agriculture at Texas A&M.

The remaining $500,000 will endow an assistantship fund to support graduate-level research by young scientists pursuing careers in plant breeding, cotton crop improvement and production. These assistantships will also be used to support cotton research focused on crop improvement and production systems in the United States.

Borlaug, 92, may be the best-known agricultural scientist in the world after George Washington Carver. His work in developing new varieties that greatly increased wheat yields in the 1960s has made him the closest thing to a household name in agriculture.

He earned a bachelor's degree in forestry from the University of Minnesota in 1937. He worked for the U.S. Forestry Service in Massachusetts and Idaho before and after graduation, and then returned to the University of Minnesota to earn a master's degree in 1939 and a doctorate in 1942.

He began working as a geneticist and plant pathologist for the Cooperative Wheat Research and Production program in Mexico in 1944. In that capacity, he organized and directed the program, which was a joint undertaking by the Mexican government and the Rockefeller Foundation.

In 1970, Borlaug won the Nobel Peace Prize for the development of high-yielding wheat varieties. He also was presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977 and the Presidential World without Hunger Medal in 1985. He also received the National Medal of Science from President George Bush in 2005.

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