Local Biologist Honored For Saving Billions Of Lives

Posted at: 03/25/2014 11:04 PM
By: John Doetkott

(ABC 6 News) -- Tuesday marked National Agriculture Day, and U.S. leaders celebrated by honoring the work of a local scientist known as one of the farming industry's most revolutionary figures.

On Tuesday afternoon at the U.S. capitol, legislators unveiled a new statue of biologist Dr. Norman Borlaug.

Born in Cresco, Iowa, Borlaug helped create varieties of wheat that were resistant to disease.

"By doing that he increased food production,” said Mike Merten, a farmer and seed dealer in Austin. “Basically, they said that he saved a billion lives in his career."

Merten said he's seen dramatic progress in crop science that can be traced back to Borlaug's advances.

"I've seen the crops just become so much more resistant to stress and diseases through the breeding process and through genetically modifying these plants," Merten said.

It's because of that progress that Borlaug received the Nobel Peace Prize along with countless other awards from countries around the world.

And on Tuesday legislators remembered Borlaug as an innovator and a visionary.

"We need to remember that Norman Borlaug's legacy will not be determined just by what he did during his brief time on earth,” said Rep. Bruce Braley, a democrat from Iowa. “It will be determined by what we do together to expand his vision of stewardship toward this planet and the people who live on it."

And both biologists and farmers know that's a tall order.

With weather patterns changing and global population increasing, experts said we will need continual advancements to keep up with a rising demand for food.

"This is really just the tip of the iceberg,” Merten said. “If we can make improvements in these genetics to produce more on less land, it's going to help us down the road to continue to feed people all over the world."

Borlaug passed away back in 2009, and Tuesday would have been his 100th birthday.