The life and accomplishments of Norman Borlaug, who worked tirelessly to improve agriculture through research, adaptation and experimentation, continue to be an inspiration for those in agriculture today, Iowa Farm Bureau members said last week during ceremonies for the unveiling of the statue of Borlaug in the U.S. Capitol.
"This is a huge recognition, not just for Iowa, but for agriculture in general and the mission we have to feed the world," said Craig Hill, president of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation (IFBF). "We all attempt to do better, we want to be more productive, more efficient and to be better stewards of the land."
Borlaug, a plant scientist who was born in 1914 on a farm in the Howard County town of Cresco, is considered the father of the Green Revolution. His drive to improve wheat and other crops is credited with saving a billion lives in the developing world by dramatically increasing crop yields without opening up more fragile land to production.
The statue of Borlaug—who was one of only three people to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, the Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom—is a true testament to agriculture’s pivotal role in addressing malnutrition and bringing peace and stability in the world, the Iowa Farmer Bureau members said.
Borlaug’s vision of a less hungry and more peaceful world really does guide farmers today, said Colin Johnson, a Wapello County Farm Bureau member.
"It’s so great to celebrate a man, born and raised in Iowa, who did so much for the world," he said. "And it’s great that he will be on permanent display so that my children and all future generations can learn about his life and look upon Norman Borlaug as a true hero," said Johnson, who raises crops and livestock near Agency. "I certainly think about feeding the world and what Dr. Borlaug did. There is a need out there and it’s important that we have the tools to raise production to meet that need."
Belief in science
It was Borlaug’s belief in the power of science and continual improvements in agriculture which impressed Jeremy Swanson, a Webster County farmer.
"I think his life really kind of sets the stage of what we are dealing with now in agriculture, even though so much has changed from when he started his work," said Swanson, who is chair of the IFBF Young Farmer Advisory Committee.
"We are trying to use fewer inputs today, but still produce more food for the world, and that’s why science and technology are so important," he said.
Norman Borlaug is also a great example of why agriculture can’t rest on its accomplishments or turn its back on advancements in genetics and other technology, said Dustin Johnson, a Clinton County Farm Bureau member. The challenges of feeding a growing world population while protecting the environment are just too great for agriculture to stand still, he said.
"He showed that we need to continue to be on the cutting edge and work to find better ways," Johnson said. "In a lot of ways, he laid the groundwork for all that we do today."
Inspiring young people
Hill said Norman Borlaug’s statue and legacy should be an inspiration to others to pick up the torch and use technology to increase food production for a hungry world, while protecting the environment.
"Hopefully this will inspire others to follow these giant footsteps," Hill said of the celebration of the unveiling of the statue, which occurred on what would have been Borlaug’s 100th birthday. "Really there is a great opportunity for the next Norman Borlaug because now we know so much more about the genome today. Scientists today have so many more tools than he had in his day."
It’s also important for farmers and others involved in agriculture to stand up for new breakthroughs, like biotechnology, that are often attacked by critics, Hill said.
"Norman Borlaug stood up to his critics and based his decisions on science," Hill said. "He showed that standing in the way of progress on food production would ultimately end up hurting people."